Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Oromia Support Group Report 47 February 2012
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Dr Trevor Trueman, Chair of the Oromia Support Group, was funded
by OSG and ORA UK to conduct research among refugees in
The Oromia Support Group is a non-political organisation which
attempts to raise awareness of human rights violations in
Report 47 is published in association with the Oromo Relief Association UK
+44 (0)207 263 5030
Refugees camping inside the Social Welfare Centre, Hargeisa,
Makeshift camp of registered asylum-seekers outside the Social Welfare Centre. 3
Somaliland officials and journalists claim that refugees from
Because of the cooperation between Somaliland and
Refugee status determination and registration of asylum-seekers has been stalled since 2008. UNHCR recognises 1660 refugees and several thousand asylum-seekers. Recognised refugees were given monthly allowances of $40-80 per family by UNHCR and were given access to supplementary feeding, primary education and limited medical help at the Social Welfare Centre, provided by Save the Children under contract to UNHCR.
Under pressure from the
At the beginning of November, destitute refugees began camping at the Social Welfare Centre and asylum-seekers set up camp on an adjacent vacant lot. Over 400 are now camped inside and outside the centre. Save the Children stopped the supplementary feeding, primary school and health care provision and later terminated its contract. The owner of the building is trying to remove the encamped refugees and using violence to do so.
Overcrowded, insanitary conditions, food shortage and lack of medical care have been responsible for deaths at the centre. Eight infants died in a 15 day period in January 2012.
Refugees are not being protected in
CID Central Investigation Department, Maikelawi, the site of the 3rd Police Station in Addis Ababa, notorious for torturing political detainees
CUD Coalition for Unity and Democracy political party
EPRDF Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front umbrella party, led and dominated by the TPLF
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
IDP Internally Displaced Person
IRIN Integrated Regional Information Network, the UN news agency
OLF Oromo Liberation Front
ONLF Ogaden National Liberation Front
ORA Oromo Relief Association
OSG Oromia Support Group
SNM Somali National Movement
TPLF Tigrean People’s Liberation Front
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 5
Summary . . . . . . . . . . 3
Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . 4
This report . . . . . . . . . 7
Reasons for leaving
Numbers leaving Ethiopia, destinations . . . . . 9
Project and author of report . . . . . . 10
Timetable in Hargeisa . . . . . . . 10
Interviews and meetings with refugees and asylum-seekers . . 10
Interviewees . . . . . . . . . 11
Reported abuses in
Killings, shootings, deaths in detention . . . . . 16
Disappearances . . . . . . . . 17
Beating and torture . . . . . . . . 17
Rape . . . . . . . . . . 19
Detention . . . . . . . . . 20
Loss of family, property and businesses . . . . . 20
The journey to Hargeisa . . . . . . . . 21
Historical background . . . . . . . 22
Development, human rights and economy . . . . 23
Security, 2008 bombings . . . . . . . 24
Refugee flows . . . . . . . . 25
Becoming a refugee - the process
Registration and refugee status determination . . . 26
Voluntary return and resettlement . . . . 27
Refugees’ attitude to UNHCR . . . . . . 28
Life as a refugee in Hargeisa . . . . . . 29
Racism and xenophobia . . . . . . 30
Verbal and physical abuse, impunity . . . . 32
Official response . . . . . . . . 34
Government denials . . . . . . 35
Economic migrants, illegal immigrants . . . . . 35
A perfect storm gathers . . . . . . . 36
Crisis at the Social Welfare Centre . . . . . 37
Threats, attacks and refoulement . . . . . 38
Refoulement, abduction and repatriation . . . . . 40
Role of UNHCR . . . . . . . 42 6
The refugee lens and culture of disbelief: perspectives on insecurity . 43
Survival prospects . . . . . . . . 43
Suggestions . . . . . . . . . . 44
Appendix 1. Hargeisa: refoulements, abductions, killings, deaths and attacks . 45
Appendix 2. Interviews with refugees in Hargeisa, 25-27 November 2011 . 49 7
Map showing the borders between
Towns along the main route between Somaliland and
This, the first of two reports, includes information about abuses
experienced by 43 individuals who were interviewed in
There are two appendices. The first summarises episodes of
refoulement and other significant events affecting refugees in
Reasons for leaving
More people are leaving
1 Tagel Solomon,
Coordinator of irregular migration at IOM, quoted by IRIN, Jijiga, ‘
2 Quoted by IRIN, Jijiga, 22 November 2011.
Amnesty International. Refuge!
The term ‘economic migrant’ now has negative connotations. It was
not derogatory nor was it in common use when Amnesty International
wrote their report on refugees in
Amnesty wrote ‘The factors that lead people to leave their homes, communities and lands in search of safety are complex. Repression, social violence, armed conflict, poverty and forced 8
displacement co-exist and reinforce each other. The immediate cause of flight is almost always the danger of human rights abuse.’4
5 Ibid. p.6.
6 Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, the umbrella party led and dominated by the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
7 http://Ethiotribune.com 31 October 2006.
8 Estimated at
82 million by US State Department. 2010 Human Rights Reports:
9 Human Rights
Watch. Suppressing dissent: human rights abuses and political
International. Dismantling dissent: intensified crackdown on free
11 Coalition for
Unity and Democracy. See Human Rights Watch.
12Tronvoll, Kjetil (2011). Briefing: The Ethiopian 2010 federal and regional elections: Re-establishing the one-party state. African Affairs, 110:438, 121-136.
13 Human Rights
Watch World Report 2009.
14 Genocide Watch and Survival Rights International report. 16 February 2004, www.genocidewatch.org, and Genocide Alert, issued 14 April 2004 by firstname.lastname@example.org
‘The growing number of refugees is neither a temporary problem nor the random product of chance events. It is the predictable consequence of human rights crises, the result of decisions made by individuals who wield power over people’s lives. If governments did their job - if they protected their citizens instead of persecuting them - then those in exile could return home safely, and no more men, women and children would have to gamble on an uncertain future in a foreign land.’5
The EPRDF regime,6 now in its 21st year, has labelled the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), with which it shared power from 1991-1992, as a terrorist organisation.7 Any opposition or lack of compliance shown by members of the Oromo majority (40% of Ethiopia’s 83 million people)8 is met with accusations of involvement with the OLF.9 Members and leaders of legally registered Oromo opposition parties are tarred with the same brush.10
Resistance to complete EPRDF control of resources, economy and
political space in all regions of
Using the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’ the Ethiopian government has fought a brutal campaign against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in its Somali Region, which has involved war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Human Rights Watch.13 Mass killings in Gambella, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, have been classified as genocide.14
Reports of human rights violations are internally consistent and consistent with reports over the last 17 years published by the Oromia Support Group and yearly reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department. 9
Numbers leaving Ethiopia, destinations
Generally, three quarters of refugees seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries and four fifths are hosted in developing countries.15 The majority (7.2 million) of the 10.55 million refugees recognised by UNHCR in 2010, were in ‘protracted situations’, having been refugees for more than five years.16 The only way to find permanent safety for most of these is resettlement in a third country. Yet only 1% were resettled in 2010.17
15 UNHCR. Global
16Ibid. pp.11 and 14.
17 Ibid. p.17.
18 UNHCR. Global
Trends 2010. Table 2, pp.42-46. Figures include national statistics
which are not standardised and include some estimates made by UNHCR.
Out of 837,478 asylum applications pending at the end of 2010,
48,856 were made by people from
19 UNHCR. Global
20 UNHCR Global Report.
Ethiopia was ranked 23rd among refugee producing countries in 2010, with figures similar to Iran, and was second only to Colombia as the country of origin of asylum applicants at the end of the year.18 The host countries of refugees from Ethiopia were not named in the 2010 report, but the report for 2009 listed Somalia, South Africa and Kenya as their top destinations.19
Table 1 shows the number of refugees and asylum-seekers from
15 UNHCR. Global
16Ibid. pp.11 and 14.
17 Ibid. p.17.
18 UNHCR. Global
Trends 2010. Table 2, pp.42-46. Figures include national statistics
which are not standardised and include some estimates made by UNHCR.
Out of 837,478 asylum applications pending at the end of 2010,
48,856 were made by people from
19 UNHCR. Global
20 UNHCR Global
* UNHCR did not
distinguish Somaliland or Puntland from the rest of
†UNHCR Global Trends 2009 (not available in Global Report 2010). 10
The majority of refugees in
Project and author of report
With a small amount of funding obtained through the Oromo Relief
Association UK (ORA) and the Oromia Support Group (OSG), I visited
refugees in the capital city and in Ali Addeh refugee camp in
I have been interested in the human rights situation in
In September 2010, I visited Oromo refugees in
Group. Human Rights Abuses in
Timetable in Hargeisa
25.11.11. Flight to Hargeisa from
Two interviews with refugees. Further interviews postponed because of security concerns.
26.11.11. Seven interviews with refugees. Further interviews again postponed.
Meeting with Yousuf Mohammed Hassan and Mustafa, Somaliland Journalists Association, Dawan Media Group.
27.11.11. Meetings with Abdirizak Ali Osman, Minister of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, and Musa Yousuf Farah, Director of Migration Response Centre, in presence of Yousuf Mohammed Hassan, Somaliland Journalists Association, and Mark Anderson, freelance journalist.
Eight interviews with refugees in a safe house.
28.11.11. Meeting with Save the Children: Hasan Mohamed, General Manager, and Mariam Abdalla, Director of Social Welfare Centre.
Interviews and meetings with refugees and asylum-seekers
In the following paragraphs, refugees, asylum-seekers and
undocumented migrants are sometimes referred to as refugees if they
or members of their families left
Refugees were informed that the purpose of my visit was research and
that I was not able to act as an advocate or promote individual
cases for registration or resettlement. Interviewees were selected
by the elected leader and spokesman for the refugees who were
gathered at the Social Welfare Centre. He was asked to include at
least as many women as men and to include refugees from different
ethnic backgrounds. He was not asked to select interviewees on the
basis of severity of their mistreatment in
Seventeen out the 43 substantive interviews conducted during the research period took place in Hargeisa. Fourteen were carried out via the same male translator. Interviews with two Oromo and one Tigrean refugee were conducted in English. Interviews lasted 40-80 minutes. The sixth interview, with a 32 year-old Oromo woman who had been refouled from Djibouti in 1996 and detained for eight years, was halted prematurely, because of security concerns and the public location of the interview.
After brief enquiries about age, place of origin, occupation and
family, interviewees were asked about the problems they had in
All interviewees in Hargeisa used pseudonyms. Each of their accounts, in as much detail as is safe for them and their families, is given in Appendix 2.
Less structured interviews and meetings took place with individuals or small groups of refugees and asylum-seekers: one Eritrean, two Oromo students and two groups of three Oromo refugees were interviewed on separate occasions.
Information given in the 43 structured interviews in
Overall, the average age of interviewees was 36.3 years. The average
age of interviewees in Hargeisa was close to this (34.9 years) but
there was a greater scatter of ages there than in
Whereas the objective of interviewing at least as many women as men
was met in
Overall, most interviewees were Oromo (32 out of 43), mainly from
Hararge (26). There were 7 Amhara interviewees, 4 from Hararge, 2
Out of the 17 interviewed in Hargeisa, 14 were Oromo; 10 from
Hararge, 2 from Arsi, and one from each of Bale and Jigjiga, Somali
Region. The other interviewees were two Amhara from
Table 2. Interviewees in Djiboutiville
Interviewee Age Sex Origin Ethnicity Year arrived Detention Torture Rape Comments
1. Asli 33 F Hararge Oromo 2007 2007-3 weeks Y In detention Husband detained and disappeared
2. Halima 38 F Hararge Oromo 2005 No Beaten at home, miscarried
Husband detained and disappeared
3. Hana 40* F Hararge Oromo 2006 No In home Husband detained and disappeared
4. Sara 30 F Hararge Oromo 1994 No Brother shot dead
5. Abdi 36 M Hararge Oromo 1997 1995-1996 Y Avoided refoulement 2004
6. Abdurahman 39 M Hararge Oromo 2005 2005-18 days Y Father detained and disappeared
7. Biftu 30 F Hararge Oromo 2005 2005-3 weeks N In detention Sister-in-law also raped
8. Kadija A. 35 F Hararge Oromo 2009 No Husband and brother detained
9. Caaltu 37 F Hararge Oromo 2002 No Shot in leg; Father shot dead.
10. Leenco A. 55 M Hararge Oromo 2006 No Shot in leg
11. Raree 35* M Hararge Oromo 2006 No Brother and father shot dead
12. Abdata 32 M Jimma Oromo 2002 No Father shot dead
and 2007 Avoided refoulement 2002
Refouled 2004, shot in leg
13. Foole 42 M Hararge Oromo 1996 1992-1996 Y Coerced to return 2003
and 2008 2003-2008 Y
14. Abdulla 28 M Hararge Oromo 2008 No Father died in detention
*Estimate by interviewee 13
Table 3. Interviewees in Ali Addeh refugee camp,
Interviewee Age Sex Origin Ethnicity Year arrived Detention Torture Rape Comments
1. Genet T. 30 F Messawa Ethio/Eritrean 1998 No Home burnt, family scattered 1988
2. Gebre-M. 38 M Hararge Amhara 1992 1992-8 days Y Father and uncle detained
3. Osman A. 41 M Hararge Oromo 1992 1991-4 months Y Brother shot dead
Avoided refoulement Jan. 2011
4. Unabor 50 M Eritrea Saho (Eritrean) 2003 1990-1991 Y Detained and tortured by EPLF
and 1999-2 months Friend killed by hanging (PLF)†
Detained twice in
5. Habiba 39* F Ogaden Ogadeni 1993 No Husband refouled 2003; cousin
refouled January 2011, after 15
Ogadeni refouled December 2010
6. Kadija 34* F Wollo Amhara 1992 No In home Mother detained and disappeared
when 14 Sexually harassed in Ali Addeh
7. Amina 30* F Hararge Amhara 1993 No Near home Family taken, home
destroyed; when 11-12 Husband sought by
8. Fatuma 40* F Hararge Oromo 1992 No In Djibouti Father and brother killed 1992
9. Fatiya 30 F Hararge Amhara 2005 No In
(twice) second (multiple) rape in
Brother detained, beaten to death
10. Asha 63 F Hararge Amhara 1991 No Arrested, beaten in Awr Aousa
11. Osman B. 31 M Hararge Oromo 2002 2002-5 months Y Avoided refoulement 2004
Detained 25 days in
12. Mohamed 31 M ? Oromo 2001 No Detained 7 days in
†Detained after defecting from Derg army to Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF); later detained and friend killed by Popular Liberation Front, an opposition group to EPLF, backed by TPLF.
*Estimate by interviewee 14
Table 4. Interviewees in Hargeisa,
Interviewee Age Sex Origin Ethnicity Year arrived Detention Torture Rape Comments
1. Kalid 28 M Addis Ababa Amhara 2007 No Saw 3 demonstrators killed 2005
2. Dagles 45 M Somali Region Oromo 2002 1995-2002 Y 6 cell mates died in prison and 2
were shot dead on release 2000
3. Addis-Hiyot 46 F Addis Ababa Amhara 2005 2005-1 month Y In detention Rapists in Hargeisa (6) released
and in Hargeisa after 24 hrs in detention
4. Zelalem 35 M Arsi Oromo 2007 1992-1994 Y Shot in leg and abdomen 2005-2006 Y Cousin and 3 friends shot dead;
Avoided refoulement October 2011 when two abducted from his home
5. Akele G. 41 M Tigray Tigrean 2001 2001-11 weeks Y
6. Dursitu 32 F Hararge Oromo 1994 (Djib) 1996-2004 Y ? Of 17
7. Yaadatu 38 F Hararge Oromo 2003 No Husband detained 1995-1997; He was refouled from Hargeisa 1998 and detained until 2002
8. Mulis 38 M Hararge Oromo 2003 1993-1994 Y His friends, a couple and their two 2000-2002 Y children, died when their home in Hargeisa was set on fire in 2010
9. Qiltu 29 M Bale Oromo 2007 2006-18 months Y Two cell mates died in prison
Detained in Hargeisa 10-14 days December 2011 - January 2012 15
Table 4. Interviewees in Hargeisa,
Interviewee Age Sex Origin Ethnicity Year arrived Detention Torture Rape Comments
10. Imee W. 42 M Hararge Oromo 2000 1994-1995 ? Reported that 1500
died in Hurso 1996-1997 Y military camp from food poisoning
1999-2000 Y Refouled from
11. Karayu 28 M Hararge Oromo 2006 2005-4 months Y
12. Asiya 25* F Hararge Oromo 2005 2005-25 days N In and on way to detention
13. Saatu 31 F Hararge Oromo 2005 1997-1 year Y N ‘Many’ in her area died and disappeared in detention
14. Nantukini 31 M Hararge Oromo 2005 1999-2005 Y 2 cell mates died
Detained 7 days Hargeisa
15. Yusuf 22 M Hararge Oromo 2006 No Father detained and tortured
8 years; cousin killed
16. Hargayabor 35 M Hararge Oromo 2005 1999-2005 Y
17. Mulata 48 M Arsi Oromo 2002 1993-7 months Y 2 friends shot dead; wife tortured
1998-2002 Y to death; 2 cell mates and 74 other prisoners died
*Estimate by interviewee
Reported abuses in
Overall findings from the 43 interviews, in
Killings, shootings and deaths in detention
The 43 interviewees reported the shooting to death of 34 individual
relatives and acquaintances by government forces. Eye-witness
accounts were given of 27 of the killings, including three
demonstrators and three mourners at a funeral in 2005. Four brothers
and four fathers of six interviewees were shot dead in 1992, 2001,
2002 and 2007. Another five relatives and family friends were killed
in 2005 and 2006. The 34 killings include 12 who were deported with
one interviewee from
Only two killed in the 1992 massacre at Weter,
Four of the interviewees were shot and sustained serious injuries to their legs and/or abdomens. All four had relatives or acquaintances killed, three at the time of their being shot. Many of the interviewees also bore scars from beatings and torture.
Overall, the interviewees spontaneously reported 94 deaths in detention, due to injuries while being tortured and beaten and/or medical neglect. All but five of these deaths were eye-witness reports from co-detainees. They all occurred between 1996 and 2006.
Two former detainees at Hamaresa military camp,
In addition, two interviewees who had been detained in military
camps in Dire Dawa and Kombolcha in
One other report of a large number of deaths in detention came from a former detainee at Hurso military camp between 1994 and 1995. He reported that 1500 had died from ‘food poisoning’, which may possibly have been dysentery or cholera. He was visibly upset when 17
describing how their bodies were left out for hyenas and other animals to eat. ‘Dogs ate their bones’ he said.
Five disappearances of close relatives were spontaneously reported by interviewees. One man reported the disappearance of his father in detention in 2004. A woman reported the disappearance of her mother in 1991 and three women reported the disappearance in detention of their husbands in 1992, 2005 and 2007.
Beating and torture
All detainees were beaten at some stage, nearly all in each of their places of detention, and there were other reports of violence against demonstrators or during the arrest of family members. For example, one street protestor in 1996 was left with an exposed broken collar bone after it was smashed with a rifle butt and one woman miscarried following severe beating at the arrest of her husband in May 2005.
All of the 17 male former detainees reported being tortured, in
almost all their places of detention. Four of the six female former
detainees reported being tortured. Thus 21 (49%) of 43 interviewees
(91% of 23 former detainees) gave a history of torture. Literature
surveys, by academics and clinicians at the
35 year-old farmer from Arsi whose cousin and three friends were shot dead. He shows extensive scarring from being beaten with electric cable and sticks in 2005.
For once or twice a week in the first year of his detention, in the middle of the night ‘They put a pistol in my mouth and said “We are about to kill you”.’
23 Jaranson et al. (2004) Somali and Oromo refugees: correlates of torture and trauma history. American Journal of Public Health. 94:4, 591-598. April 2004.
Most of those who were tortured reported being beaten with wooden staves, iron bars, gun barrels or rifle butts, and/or being whipped with electric cable. Several were held for long periods with their hands tied or handcuffed and some with their feet shackled together. For three interviewees, their torture was limited to these methods. 18
Six reported having the soles of their feet beaten with sticks or
whipped with electric cable (bastinado). Another report of bastinado
came from the wife of a former detainee. This was a favourite
technique of the Derg and continues to be commonly reported from
Four interviewees had their arms tied tightly above the elbows,
behind their backs, repeatedly for between three and 24 hours at a
time. This form of torture was commonly reported from
Four were repeatedly threatened with a pistol or rifle placed inside the mouth or under the chin. One 41 year-old, whose front teeth were damaged by a Kalashnikov barrel pushed into his mouth, described also being subjected to mock execution in Masala military camp, West Hararge, in 1992. The rifle was fired beside and just over his head and then into a shallow grave, said to contain a body. On another occasion, he was pushed, with his hands tied behind his back, into a shallow grave and a rifle fired near to him.
Water was used in four cases. Near drowning was reported by three methods; repeated immersion of the upper body in a barrel of dirty water, immersion of the whole body suspended by a rope into a river, and by water-boarding with running water over the face. Repeated drenching with cold water was reported by the fourth case.
Two men reported genital torture. Weights were suspended from the testicles of one 45 year-old man when he was held in a military camp in Somali Region in 1997. A 48 year-old described severe torture in his first 24 hours of detention at Imi military camp in Bale in late 1998. Before he was suspended in the Wabi Shebele river (see above paragraph), his testicles were clamped with a device used to castrate bulls. His testicles and the tip of his penis were then beaten. He fainted and regained consciousness while drops of hot molten plastic, from a sheet of plastic being held over a cigarette lighter, were being allowed to fall onto his genitalia, groin and upper thighs.
Two men described having their arms and feet tied together behind their backs when lying on their front (‘rocking horse’). One was placed on sharp stones for 90 minutes three times in one month. Another was left in this position for four days, lying in his urine and faeces.
Electric shocks, severe enough to throw a man against the sides and roof of a small cage in one case, were reported by two former detainees. Another two reported being forced to eat faeces and one was subjected to forced exercise (squat jumps - when exhausted from other torture). A 41 year-old farmer, tortured in many ways, showed a circular scar on his abdomen where a red hot iron pipe had been applied after he collapsed following one torture session. 19
Torture was not limited to physical pain and intimidation. Two men described separate incidents of being made to stay in a cell with two dead bodies, for periods of two days. Disposing of dead bodies of colleagues was particularly traumatic. One man spoke tearfully of being forced to carry a body on his back and throw it into a river running through a ravine.
There were two separate reports from former detainees at Hamaresa
military camp in
46 year-old Amhara woman merchant, raped by soldiers and then repeatedly by her interrogator and a guard in Harar prison in 2005.
Six women interviewees were detained. Four reported being raped in detention. Only one reported not being raped. The other interview was interrupted because of security concerns.
One 30 year-old was detained in Dire Dawa police station, together with her sister-in-law, just after the May2005 elections. She was raped by five policemen every night for 20 days. Her sister-in-law was also raped. She was told ‘We will do this every day until you bring your brother.’ She is now infertile because of a gynaecological infection.
One woman was about 19 when she was walked the 1-2 hour journey from her home to Deder military camp in 2005, while carrying her 13 month-old child. Each of the four soldiers accompanying her raped her at the roadside. She was then raped by one or two soldiers on each of the next 25 nights for which she was detained. She estimated that 12-15 different soldiers raped her in the military camp.
A 46 year-old reported that soldiers had raped her at Harar prison in 2005. ‘They played with me - with different bad sexual intercourse with me. I’m afraid to tell you my secrets and show you the scars on my body.’ In the month before she escaped, she was also raped by her interrogator every two or three days and by the guard who accompanied her to the toilet, about every second night.
A 33 year-old spoke of being held in an unofficial place of detention at Muti, near Harar, for three weeks in 2007. She was raped by two soldiers every night after being beaten into semi-consciousness. Before her eventual admission to hospital, she estimated she had been raped by 20 soldiers in all. 20
Three women also reported being raped in their own homes. Four soldiers broke into the home of a villager near Haromaya and raped her. It was in late1992, when she was in her early twenties, shortly after she had been told to stop looking for her husband who had disappeared in detention.
One woman was only about 14 years old when three soldiers took away her mother in Kemise, Wollo, in 1991. Another soldier remained behind, threatened her with a pistol and raped her in her house.
Another interviewee estimated she was only 11 or 12 when, in 1993,
soldiers took away her parents and three siblings from their home in
Masala, near Chiro in
Out of 43 interviewees, 23 (17 men and 6 women) had been imprisoned
26 Two women and four men escaped. One woman was helped by a nurse in hospital, where she had been admitted following severe beatings and multiple rape. The other woman escaped after duping a prison guard with the promise of sex. One man scaled a fence while guards rested after beating and torturing him. Another broke out through the roof of a hut. One man fled when being transferred, while his convoy was attacked (presumably by OLF fighters). A dissident TPLF soldier overcame his guard at a military hospital after feigning illness.
Four others reported being held in conditions so confined that there was insufficient room to sleep. One woman described being held with 300 others, clad only in shawls, with only enough room to squat. Three men described being in spaces 3-5 metres square with 30-50 others, so that they had to all turn at the same time when lying down at night. One described how guards had to physically push the prisoners to get them all in the cell.
Loss of family, property and businesses
Interviewees described the destruction of their families and livelihoods. Farms, animals, trading businesses, restaurants and shops were abandoned or commandeered by government officials.
For example, a 38 year-old farmer’s wife from Deder,
A 39 year-old from Machara,
Three women interviewed in Ali Addeh related losing their homes. One
became mentally ill, having lost her family as a child when her home
was burnt down in
Fourteen of the interviewees and one other refugee with whom I was
in contact recounted having left children in
Several men and women complained that their lives as refugees made
marriage impossible. Two reported how being ostracised after periods
in detention in
The significance of loss of family was summed up by the 63 year-old
wife of a former Derg officer who was taken away and disappeared in
1991. She had been a refugee in
The journey to Hargeisa
Although the route taken by refugees to reach Hargeisa was recorded
in nine of the 17 interviews in
Three walked - for five and seven days from Harar and for three days to cover the 80km from Wachale. One paid a qat merchant 20-30 Birr to take her in his 4 X 4 from Jigjiga to Wachale and then took a bus to Hargeisa. Another used her business connections to travel in trucks the whole way.
None of the interviewees reported significant problems during their journeys. 22
Children of asylum-seekers camped at the Social Welfare Centre in Hargeisa.
British Somaliland became independent in June 1960 and entered into
voluntary union with the rest of what became
27 Human Rights
Watch. Hostages to Peace: Threats to Human Rights and Democracy in
with Councillor Dahir Tukale, Somaliland Commission,
After the SNM took parts of Hargeisa in 1988, tens of thousands of
civilians were killed in aerial bombardment and strafing by Siad
In May 2001, the population approved the constitution and reaffirmed
Somaliland proudly boasts that, unlike south and central
Development, human rights and economy
Both the representative in
Meanwhile, economic development in
Although, in stark contrast to the chaos elsewhere in
29 Human Rights Watch. Hostages to Peace. 2009. Op. cit. p.2.
According to Human Rights Watch, authoritarianism is tolerated by
Approach to Hargeisa from the airport.
Although the population is poor, living in Hargeisa is expensive.
Taxi fares for the 30 minute ride across the city were $20. Prices
in hotels and restaurants approached those in
Security, 2008 bombings
There were three suicide bombings in Hargeisa on 29 October 2008, on
the same day as the bombing of the Puntland Intelligence Service
compound in Bosasso. Explosions at the Hargeisa Ethiopian trade
mission, United Nations Development Programme offices and the
Presidential Palace left 39 dead and at least 28 wounded. The
discovery of ten rocket launchers in a residence in Hargeisa in
January 2009 deepened the perception that
As well as a predictable backlash against foreigners, there followed heightened security measures across the capital. Tan-uniformed Special Protection Units are hired as armed security guards vetting entrances to hotels and NGO offices. In addition to manned barriers, there are large concrete blocks placed chicane-fashion on access roads. Security guards search bags and run metal detectors over visitors to the Mansoor Hotel.
Human Rights Watch wrote ‘Ethiopia has long been Somaliland’s only regional ally, a relationship premised to a large degree on close cooperation on matters of security’ resulting in ‘the strong influence of the Ethiopian government over the Somaliland authorities.’31
31 Human Rights Watch. Hostages to Peace. 2009. Op. cit. p.42. 25
In addition to the countries’ security interdependence, Somaliland
is economically dependent on the revenue from Berbera port and the
trade corridor into
Because of the security and economic ties between the two countries,
political opponents of the Ethiopian regime are at risk in
Amnesty International wrote of reports of Ethiopian intelligence officers moving among refugees in Hargeisa in 2009.32 The Indian Ocean Newsletter and Somaliland Times reported that President Silanyo and his new Minister of Home Affairs received a request from Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on 1 September 2011 to hand over 500 political refugees, mainly Oromo accused of supporting the OLF. The government announcement that it would deport all illegal immigrants followed three days later and the Somaliland Times reported on 1 October that 300 Ethiopians had already been rounded up.33
International. Human Rights Challenges:
34 IRIN, Hargeisa, 22 June 2010.
The President of Somaliland visited Meles Zenawi in
About 80 Derg army personnel were welcomed as asylum-seekers in 1991. Then followed a steady flow of victims of the new Ethiopian regime. There was an upsurge, especially in Oromo and Amhara refugees, before the 2005 Ethiopian elections and during the disturbances that followed. Then, large numbers of Ogaden Somalis came in the wake of the Ethiopian government’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the Ogaden in 2007.
By 2009, most refugees were Oromo or Ogaden Somalis, but by the time
of my visit most Ogaden Somalis had left (or possibly melted into
Somali communities) because of deportations and refoulements. IRIN
reported in 2010 that most refugees were by then Oromo or Amhara,
with a small number of Eritreans and refugees from DRC or Uganda.34
Local journalists reported to me that there were also refugees from
IRIN carried a report on 23 October 2009 from immigration officials that ‘illegal Ethiopian immigrants,’ all or mostly Oromo, were arriving at a rate of 90 per day, compared to 50 per day in 2008. 26
According to refugees in Hargeisa in November 2011, there were still
50-100 arriving every month but most were moving on to
All 17 of those interviewed in depth by me came to
Becoming a refugee - the process
Registration and refugee status determination
The lower sign reads ‘Construction of office building for Refugee Eligibility Committee (REC) funded by UNHCR. Implemented by KCCC.’
Asylum-seekers register with the Ministry of the Interior after paying a fee of $20. They are then referred to the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and UNHCR. I was told by the Director of the Migration Response Centre, Musa Yousuf Farah, that refugee status determination was halted after the grenade attacks in 2008 but an Eligibility Committee was to be established by UNHCR and the Ministry again soon. A new, and as yet unused, building has been erected for the Eligibility Committee, funded by UNHCR.
The Migration Response Centre, once part of the Interior Ministry,
is now under the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and
Reconstruction, and was reinstated 4-5 months before my arrival.
Local journalists said it was funded by the International
Organisation for Migration. I was unsure quite how the determination
of refugee status is to be shared by the two ministries and UNHCR
and have been unable to ascertain this by enquiries since returning
The Minister of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, Abdirizak Ali Osman, informed me that there was now ‘only a trickle’ of applicants for asylum-seeker registration so there was no delay in recognition. Refugees told me that the registration process had been stalled since 2008, when there were 2400 registered asylum-seekers. I was told by the Director of the Migration Response Centre that there were about 400 families registered as asylum-seekers before the bombings in 2008, but when Dr Anna Lindley was conducting her research for the Centre for Refugee Studies in July 2008, she reported there were 6000 registered asylum-seekers.35
35 Lindley, Anna
(2009) Seeking refuge in an unrecognised state: Oromos in
36 IRIN, Hargeisa, 23 October 2009 and 22 June 2010.
37 IRIN, Hargeisa, 22 June 2010.
UNHCR were reported to claim there were 14,000 registered
asylum-seekers in October 2009 and about 20,000 in June 2010.36 The
number of internally displaced people from south/central Somalia was
reported to be 67,000 in 2010.37 Figures made publicly available by
UNHCR apply only to the whole of Somalia. Those for
available and I was not able to obtain the number of asylum-seekers
All 17 of my interviewees had refugee status, mostly since 2005-7. One was among about 50 who had their status determination interview in 2008. He told me he was one of 25 who had since been granted refugee status. He received this in August 2010.
There have been no status determination interviews since the 50 in 2008 and the number of files of recognised refugees has remained at 470. This figure, and the 1660 individuals which the files include, was given to me by government, NGO and refugee sources. The majority are Oromo. A substantial minority are Amhara. There are also nine Eritreans and at least one Tigrean among them.
Voluntary return and resettlement
The UNHCR representative in Hargeisa said in 2010 that reintegration
and resettlement were being prioritised.38 However, I was unable to
find out if any refugees had been resettled from Somaliland in 2011
but was told of one Eritrean woman who was resettled to
Poster outside the Migration Response Centre. Assisted voluntary
38 IRIN, Hargeisa, 22 June 2010.
The main focus of the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and
Reconstruction and the Migration Response Centre was not to promote
resettlement but to promote voluntary returns to
Musa Yousuf Farah, Director of the Migration Response Centre, said that 150 were helped to return to Jigjiga in July 2010 and 750 in September/October 2011. Another 117 were in the process at the time of our interview. These numbers are small compared to media reports of 40-45,000 returning without assistance in September and October (see below).
Several interviewees complained of the delay in hearing about resettlement decisions by Canadian immigration authorities. A 29 year-old from Bale applied in 2008 and is one of 32 out of 63 submissions which are still being considered. The other 31 have been rejected - some after waiting four years for the decision. One man had asked to be removed from the list because he believed being held in limbo was preventing him moving on elsewhere.
Two refugees expressed the belief that being on the waiting list for
Refugees’ attitude to UNHCR
It is inevitable that UNHCR is subject to criticism by the people it was established to help, because of overwhelming demand for its assistance, its limited funding and restrictions placed upon it by host governments.
One refugee said ‘I don’t want to criticise UNHCR. The Ethiopian government is to blame for our problems.’ However, most comments about UNHCR in Hargeisa were negative. Access to the office was difficult. It was 20-30 minutes by taxi from the city centre and although there were said to be regular visits by staff to refugees gathered at the Social Welfare Centre, these visits were rare in the weeks before my visit and since.
UNHCR appears to have been unable to prevent the abduction, detention or refoulement of refugees and asylum-seekers from Hargeisa.
Picture showing the artist’s opinion of UNHCR; displayed on a wall inside the Social Welfare Centre in Hargeisa.
UNHCR’s inability to gain recognition of asylum-seeker status for applicants, its failure to provide assistance to asylum-seekers and its decision to stop allowances for the majority of refugees are significant factors in the destitution and recent deaths of refugees and asylum-seekers camped at the Social Welfare Centre (see below, p.38).
Refugees said ‘UNHCR has no interest to help’ and ‘ . . they are not enabling us to be resettled.’ The reported response of one UNHCR staff member to episodes of abduction and refoulement is recorded below (p.42).
Former and present government officials expressed the view that
UNHCR should do more to shoulder the country’s burden of refugees.
Dahir Tukale, the Councillor of the Somaliland Mission in
39 Interview at
One former government minister, now a hotel owner, told me UNHCR should be doing more. Abdirizak Ali Osman, the Minister of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, said he would like to see UNHCR creating jobs and building houses in Hargeisa. 29
Life as a refugee in Hargeisa
Like refugees elsewhere, Oromo and others from
Two teenagers told me how they supplemented the family income by clearing garbage, shoe-shining or washing cars and they sometimes skipped school in order to do so. I was told it was common for Oromo children to be begging on the street.
Men earned 10-15,000 Somali Shillings ($6-9) per day ($40-70/month).
Women, who were more often the sole bread-winner, earned 5-15,000
Ssh ($3-9) per day (usually $25-50 in one month). One graduate
earned $15-20 each month giving private lessons three evenings a
week. In line with the report by Anna Lindley after her research in
2008,40 refugees often complained they were not paid or were paid
less than the going rate or less than agreed before the job. Lindley
wrote that they were threatened with being reported to the Ethiopian
trade mission or the
40 Lindley 2009. Op. cit.
41 IRIN, Hargeisa, 10 November 2011.
Recognised refugees were receiving allowances from UNHCR until the beginning of 2011. The allowances were $40/month for single file holders, $60 for couples with up to four children and $80 for families of more than six.
Accommodation for refugees was mainly in Somali-style dwellings - rectangular buildings with a wicker framework, covered with material, sometimes with tin, cardboard or hardboard over the lower walls. These were described in an IRIN report41 as being in eight IDP camps around the city, but I saw only scattered groups during my short visit. The monthly rents were generally 20-35,000 SSh ($12-21). A few families, with savings or receiving money from abroad, rented brick-built houses. I met one member of a family with six children who had rented a house for $50/month but had recently been forced to move to cheaper accommodation. Two interviewees reported their rents had been increased (from 20,000 and 30,000 to 35,000 SSh) about four months previously.
Most refugees live in Somali-style dwellings such as this, built of fabric on wicker frames. 30
A free primary school for refugees had operated alongside a Somali primary school near the Social Welfare Centre and was well attended by about 400, mainly Oromo, children. It was operated by Save the Children, under contract to UNHCR since 2008, but it closed when refugees began camping in and near the Social Welfare Centre at the beginning of November 2011.
At the time of my visit, the British International School of Hargeisa had 11 secondary school students (8 Oromo, 2 Ugandan and 1 Amhara). The fees of $45/month were paid by UNHCR. The teachers were Somali.
No medical statistics were ascertained. Retroviral treatment for HIV was available to refugees and was distributed from the hospital but there were no blood checks. One patient reported that the drugs varied depending on availability, thereby encouraging the development of resistance. One 16 year-old died of the disease within six weeks of my visit.
Save the Children was contracted by UNHCR to provide supplementary feeding, counselling and medical services, especially for chronic diseases, to mandate refugees at the Social Welfare Centre. They had also looked favourably on individual applications by UNHCR for help for registered asylum-seekers However, all medical assistance stopped following the refugees’ occupation of the Social Welfare Centre at the beginning of November.
The link between destitution and disease was starkly evident in the crisis which developed at the Social Welfare Centre after I left. Ten died in the next seven weeks. Eight infants died within a short period in January 2012 (see p.38 and Appendix 1.).
Lindley reported that Hargeisa University Legal Clinic (funded by UNDP) provided ‘crucial if limited support’ in 2008 and Save the Children staff spoke to me of the Law Clinic, saying it might have details of those injured in attacks by the host population.
The local community and the world do not understand our situation.
There are lots of organisations working in
A 42 year-old recognised refugee from Harar. 27 November 2011.
Racism and xenophobia
Because of their own experiences, Somalilanders are often
sympathetic to refugees. A hotel-owner in Hargeisa, a former
government minister, was initially hostile to my interviewing
refugees in the grounds of his hotel but after explanations were
given he spoke of his experience as a refugee in the
Interviews were permitted the following day in the seclusion of a private house, where one of the refugee women was a cleaner. The owner trusted more than a dozen strangers to occupy her premises all day. The general mood in the capital was, however, not so sympathetic. 31
As noted by Lindley,42 refugees in Hargeisa are segregated because of their distinct languages and culture, the misguided perception that they are all Christian and the impossibility of their being accepted in local clan arbitration systems.
42 Lindley 2009. Op. cit.
Fear of terrorist attacks and straight forward xenophobia are fuel
for racist abuse of refugees in Somaliland, which is evident from
some of the readers’ comments posted on the
A 41 year-old Tigrean refugee who paid $15/month to live in a Somali dwelling in the Jigjigaher area of Hargeisa, said that his landlord, like many Somalis ‘does not like Habash; they don’t like us being Christian; they call us gaal’ [non-Muslim]. ‘We are abused for speaking our language . . . we are blamed for making the city dirty, bringing TB and HIV.’
Seven of the nine members of the family of 55 year-old Abdurahman
Mohamed Qabatoo. He was abducted at 5.00 a.m. on 26 October from
Toqdeer, Hargeisa, by an Ethiopian/Somaliland snatch squad and
subjected to refoulement to
In the opinion of Yousuf Mohammed Hassan (a senior figure in the
Somaliland Journalists Association, which is affiliated to the
state-run Dawan Media Group), animosity to Oromo and Ogaden Somali
refugees was particularly intense. He said with evident feeling that
this was because the majority of Siad Barre’s army, which was
responsible for war crimes in
This exaggeration was followed by other derogatory comments. He and a colleague described the awkwardness of being expected as Muslims to give to beggars but when faced with a stream of supplicants, their generosity became exhausted. Yousuf spoke of refugees ‘going around in gangs . . .begging from shop to shop, like parasites.’ ‘Islam tells you that you have to share, but people just keep coming.’ Before the government announcement in September, which rid Hargeisa of many of its immigrants, he said ‘They were everywhere, begging, overwhelming the city.’
From his point of view, the only drawback to the exodus was that the city was noticeably more dirty afterwards. There was more garbage around, because immigrants had been commonly employed to clear it up.
Shortly after claiming that if there were any brothels in Hargeisa,
they were run by Ethiopians, Yousuf said that all immigrants from
An Eritrean refugee reported that hostility to them was justified by
the belief that the Eritrean regime was supporting al Shabaab
The Imam of Herawor Mosque, Sheikh Mohammed Sero, reputedly preaches against refugees. He claims that Oromo and other Ethiopians are not true Muslims and does not allow them into the Mosque.
Verbal and physical abuse, impunity
IRIN, the UN news agency, reported from Hargeisa on 10 November 2011
that refugees were being beaten and threatened with being reported
as illegal immigrants to
Verbal and physical abuse were common according to reports made to me. Two teenagers spoke of being beaten on their way to school and called ‘Habasha peasants’. On their way to our meeting, they said they refrained from speaking Oromo when other people were in earshot, to avoid attracting abuse. They reported that all dirty or unkempt people were called Oromo, ‘gaal’ or ‘qoti’. One was questioned for wearing a decent shirt: ‘How can you have a good shirt? You’re an Oromo.’
Three refugees whom I interviewed one early evening about two kilometres from the Social Welfare Centre asked for bus fares for the return journey. They were reluctant to walk back through Hargeisa after dark, fearing attack by local people.
The teenage students reported having their mobile phones stolen twice and three times. ‘Somali students come into the class, steal our books and beat small children.’ The young men said there was no recourse to justice for beating or abuse against refugees, ‘because we’re not regarded as equal.’ 33
Between 200 and 250, mainly registered asylum-seekers, have been camping in a vacant lot opposite to the Social Welfare Centre in Hargeisa since the beginning of November 2011.
The International Organisation for Migration has paid for public information television broadcasts about violence against refugees. One interviewee reported that his wife had been beaten by their landlord because they owed rent. Three men interviewed together on 27 November told me of knife attacks by Somalis.
I was told of two incidents of homes being set ablaze. A few days after I left, at 10.00 pm on 7 December, the home of a recognised refugee was burnt down, after he had received repeated warnings to move. The previous, fatal, incident occurred when a teacher and former torture victim, his young wife and their two young children were burned to death after petrol was poured on their home and set on fire in about May 2010.
Impunity for abuse against refugees includes accessibility to civil law. A man who had a below-knee amputation in August 2011, following an accident on a building site, was warned not to pursue any claim for damages in the courts.
Sexual harassment and rape go unpunished. Lindley wrote of reports
to her of sexual harassment of women at work.43 I interviewed a 46
year-old former detainee and victim of rape in
43 Lindley 2009. Op. cit.
The four, and two men who joined them the following day, raped her repeatedly over a 48 hour period. She reported this to the police and the six men were arrested. They were released within 24 hours, after their families paid money to the police. The police told her ‘There is no problem. Somalis are also raped.’ 34
The first refugees from the current regime in
All arrivals from
The Toronto-based Human Rights League in the Horn of Africa had
earlier reported (30.8.08) government press announcements that Oromo
After the bombings in October 2008, President Riyale is reported to
have contacted UNHCR headquarters in
The government announced in March 2011 that it would ‘deport illegal
ethnic Ethiopian Oromos . . ., who beg in the streets in the main
He continued ‘We know that the Oromo people are a burden on security, health and employment in the country. The ministry has decided to appoint a commission that would be responsible for the deportation of the Oromos back to Ethiopia.’44 I presume he was referring to the establishment of the Migration Response Centre.
44 Horn Cable TV, Hargeysa, in Somali, 1900 GMT, 19 March 2011.
45 The Somaliland Times, Issue 505, 1-7th October, 2011, quoting an Indian Ocean Newsletter report from Addis Ababa, 1 October 2011, ‘Ethiopia: Security cooperation in good shape with Sillanyo,’ named the spokesman, Osman Garad Sofe, as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs. IRIN reported the announcement from Hargeisa/Nairobi on 14 September, quoting the same Deputy Minister, but stating he was from the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.
46 IRIN, Hargeisa, 10 November 2011.
At a press conference on 4 September 2011, within three days of the
appointment of a new minister, the Deputy Minister announced that
Employing and renting property to ‘illegal immigrants’ was banned
and refugees were told that only criminals and terrorists had a
problem returning to
IRIN estimated that 40-45,000 immigrants left
The Director-General of the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction denied knowledge of attacks on refugees in an interview with IRIN.47 The Minister told me that he was unaware of any incidents of abduction or refoulement of refugees to Ethiopia and that in order to protect their jobs and avoid eviction and arrest, refugees had only to show their documents to employers, landlords and the police. The Director of the Migration Response Centre said he was unaware of discrimination against refugees and asylum-seekers but that ‘ignorance may result in hostility.’
47 IRIN, Hargeisa, 10 November 2011.
48 IRIN, 23 October 2009.
49 IRIN, Hargeisa, 22 June 2010.
50 IRIN, Hargeisa/Nairobi, 14 September 2011.
Economic migrants, illegal immigrants
I’ve been detained 8 years in different military camps, but they are calling us economic migrants. Refugee in his early thirties, from Ginir, Bale. 27 November 2011.
According to IRIN,48 a source within the Somaliland Ministry of Interior claimed in October 2009 that, out of 15,600 Ethiopian refugees and asylum-seekers registered by UNHCR, all except 4000 were economic migrants. All but 1600 were said to be economic migrants in June 2010.49
In September 2011, the Deputy Minister for Resettlement,
Rehabilitation and Reconstruction gave reassurances that recognised
refugees and those displaced from south/central
Asylum-seekers camped outside the Social Welfare Centre show documents which register their asylum-seeker status. 5 February 2012.
As the refugee status determination process stopped in 2008, it is difficult to see how lack of recognition of refugee status can be considered a valid means of classification of individuals as ‘illegal immigrants.’
Musa Yousuf Farah, the Director of the Migration Response Centre,
told me that 99% of Ethiopians in Somaliland were economic migrants
and many were OLF rebels who lied about being persecuted in
Even the UN news agency, IRIN, sometimes ‘naturalises’ the reasons
for flight from
government in failing to address chronic food shortage and ignored the political persecution responsible for many of those who were refugees or were seeking asylum in Somaliland.51
51 IRIN, Hargeisa/Nairobi, 14 September 2011.
52 Lindley 2009. Op. cit.
53 IRIN, Hargeisa, 22 June 2010.
It is impossible to know what proportion were fleeing solely from
political persecution or purely because of destitution and food
insecurity. It is likely that many had mixed motives for being in
A perfect storm gathers
At the beginning of 2011, UNHCR stopped the monthly allowances to all but 153 of the 470 refugee mandate file-holders.
Refugees camped inside the Social Welfare Centre.
UNHCR said it did this to provide an incentive for refugees to integrate into the local economy. But, as one refugee told IRIN six months before the allowances were stopped ‘the Somalilanders don’t want us; the best way we could do this is by inter-marrying but how can we do this if they won’t even interact with us?’53
Refugees believe that UNHCR was merely bowing to pressure from the
authorities who told UNHCR that the allowances were attracting
The 153 whose allowances continued were deemed to be vulnerable, as assessed by Save the Children at the Social Welfare Centre. Some allowances which were initially continued, were also stopped during the year. Many fell behind with their rent.
The inability of refugees and asylum-seekers to pay their rents was exacerbated by their being banned from employment. Employers and landlords did not distinguish between immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Negotiations reported to have been held between UNHCR and the government to allow recognised refugees to work, were thus doomed to failure, even if they had been of theoretical success. The government had already stated that recognised refugees should be allowed to work, in any case. 37
One teenager remarked to me ‘When we show them a copy of our mandate paper, they laugh and say it doesn’t entitle us to work.’
The experience of one interviewee, a 42 year-old from Harar, epitomised the situation. He was recognised as seeking asylum in 2001 and was given mandate refugee status in 2004. Until early September 2011, he worked as a temporary watchman for one or two days a week. He has looked for work since but found it impossible. ‘When I go looking for work, since the government announced it was illegal, local people grab me and tell me to go home’ he said.
He now owes more than six months rent: ‘My landlord is a good man but he is now losing patience.’
Many of those who had been working before my visit had not been paid for several weeks, a problem noted a few weeks earlier by IRIN.54 Those who had been evicted for non-payment of rent sometimes had their property confiscated in lieu of payment, thereby increasing their level of destitution.
54 IRIN, Hargeisa, 10 November 2011.
55 Save the
Children staff estimated 200 inside the compound. UNHCR, in
correspondence with their
56 IRIN, Hargeisa, 10 November 2011.
Out of 17 interviewees, eight owed 2-10 months’ rent (mostly 4-6 months). Seven had been evicted and five had all their property confiscated in lieu of rent. They were obliged to move to the Social Welfare Centre.
Crisis at the Social Welfare Centre
Stoppage of UNHCR allowances, the government ban on employment, evictions and the hostility to beggars created an impossible situation for refugees and asylum-seekers in Hargeisa. Around the beginning of November, they gathered at the Social Welfare Centre, where they had previously received counselling, supplementary feeding and access to limited medical attention.
Asylum-seekers camped in a vacant lot opposite the Social Welfare Centre.
About 200-270 recognised refugees, including approximately 100 children, camped inside the compound of the centre. Another 200-250, mostly registered asylum-seekers, set up camp in a vacant lot on the opposite side of the road.55
Save the Children, who ran the centre, referred to the occupation as a ‘protest’. IRIN reported that those remaining in Hargeisa either hid in their homes or camped at the centre because they feared being attacked and deported to Ethiopia.56 38
Using only makeshift shelters, they were exposed to the cold at night. They quickly became short of food and were living, cooking and sleeping in confined spaces. The only latrine pit, in the Social Welfare Centre, was rapidly filled.
UNHCR sent local staff with blankets and eating utensils two or
three weeks after the beginning of the encampment. Refugees told me
that these were sold (‘for $10’) so they could buy food. In
correspondence with their office in
In conversation with me, Save the Children staff referred to the refugees exhibiting ‘illness behaviour’ to enhance their chances of resettlement.57
Child inside Social Welfare Centre showing signs of Kwashiorkor, severe protein-calorie malnutrition.
5 February 2012.
57 Interview with Save the Children staff, 28 November 2011.
Two infants had died at the centre three and four weeks before my visit. In the next seven weeks, another nine infants and a 16 year-old had died. Eight infants died in a single 15 day period, 2-16 January. (See Appendix 1.)
By 20 January 2012, 47 (22 adults and 25 children) were reported to be severely ill. Food shortage became acute.
Photographs showed children who were dangerously malnourished. Women with sick children reported being turned away from the public hospital. Therefore, limited funding from overseas was used for medical attention by local doctors in January and February.
Threats, attacks and refoulement
Special Protection Units were reported by an independent observer to have threatened those gathered at the Social Welfare Centre shortly before my visit at the end of November. About 40 arrived in three large vehicles, brandishing batons and Kalashnikovs, and told the refugees and asylum-seekers that they had to leave within a few hours. They returned and repeated their demands later that day.
Shortly after I returned to
A delegation of 20 refugees and asylum-seekers attended the meeting with government and UNHCR officials at the Ministry of the Interior on 22 December. After they refused to decamp, having nowhere to go and nothing to live on, the delegates were ordered into two police transport vehicles. UNHCR were powerless to intervene. The detainees, including two mothers breast-feeding their infants, were imprisoned and transferred to detention in Wachale, at the Ethiopian border, pending deportation.
Malnourished infant inside Social Welfare Centre.
15 December 2011.
A registered asylum-seeker was abducted from his residence in
Hargeisa on the night of 2 January by an Ethiopian snatch squad and
taken immediately to
After another deadline for those gathered at the Social Welfare Centre passed on 5 January, they received an invitation for a delegation of 30 to attend a meeting at the Interior Ministry on 7 January. Not surprisingly, in view of the detention and attempted refoulement of the previous delegation, they declined the invitation.
Visits to markets became hazardous. Eight were injured in four separate episodes of beatings; five had their phones stolen; two were arrested and had their phones confiscated by police; another 15 were arrested on 8 January and one man disappeared after going to the market on 12 January. Others were beaten outside the centre.
Malnourished infant at Social Welfare Centre.
12 February 2012.
Save the Children unilaterally terminated their contract at the Social Welfare Centre at the end of December. The owner came on 15 January and reportedly said he would hire thugs to blow the place up if necessary to get rid of the refugees. This threat was repeated on 27 January.
The refugees considered joining those gathered in the vacant lot on the other side of the road, but the owner of that wanted to start building there. 40
On 29 January, 20 hired men came to the centre and began beating the refugees. The assaults continued for one hour, without intervention by the local police. One woman and two boys were reported to have been badly injured.
Representatives of foreign missions and the International Organisation for Migration were reported to have visited the Social Welfare Centre on 31 January but no solution to the impasse was in sight at the time of writing this report.
Ali Oromo, a man aged 25, was killed on 11 February 2012, after going to buy food in the market. There were claims that he was hit by a car but refugees believe he was stabbed to death.
The delegation of refugees and asylum-seekers which had been arrested at the Ministry of the Interior and taken to the border on 22 December were not deported but were turned away by Ethiopian officials on or shortly after the 28th. It is not known if they were refused entry because of incompetence or lack of preparation of Ethiopian border guards or because of representations by the International Committee of the Red Cross. UNHCR were apparently unaware of the proceedings.
After considerable hardship, 18 of the group, plus the two
breast-fed infants of two of the women, made their way to
Sister of Yasin Adam Ahmed, a young Oromo recognised refugee. Yasin
was detained and reportedly tortured in Hargeisa. He was refouled to
At least two other refugees made their way from Hargeisa to
Refoulement, abduction and repatriation
Refoulement of refugees and asylum-seekers from
Since 2006, at least 29 Ogaden Somalis, 37 Oromo, 4 Eritreans and 1 Amhara are known to have been refouled, as refugees or asylum-seekers. Two other Oromo new arrivals have been returned; seven Eritreans have disappeared and three defecting Ethiopian soldiers have been returned.
Information about refoulements, abductions and suspected involuntary returns which have been reported to and by the Oromia Support Group is summarised in Appendix 1. Further information gathered in person during the 41
research period and through contacts at the Social Welfare Centre and elsewhere since my visit is also included.
Three recognised refugees were captured by a unit of Somali and Ethiopian security forces during the night of 25/26 October. Two recent arrivals who had not registered as asylum-seekers were taken the same night and another recognised refugee was sought but narrowly avoided capture.
Daughter and granddaughter of Abdishukuur Mohamed Usman, a 43
year-old registered asylum-seeker who was abducted and refouled to
In a separate night of abductions, the snatch squad took two registered asylum-seekers on the night of 10/11 November. One of these later escaped from custody in Hargeisa, with a broken arm.
Three men were taken from Hargeisa in the night of 2/3 January 2012.
One registered asylum-seeker was transported straight to
In addition to the reports of refoulement and forced repatriation documented by the Oromia Support Group, there have been anecdotal reports by Dr Lindley and by Human Rights Watch which were recorded by them during their visits in 2008 and 2009.58
58 Lindley 2009. Op. cit.; Human Rights Watch. ‘Hostages to Peace.’ 2009. Op. cit. p.42
59 Human Rights Watch. Hostages to Peace. 2009. Op. cit. p.42.
As stated by Human Rights Watch, forced returns ‘reflect the strong
influence of the Ethiopian government over the
The cooperation of the security forces of
The three men were in one of their homes in Hargeisa together with Dima Jilo, a refugee in his early thirties, when four men, a Somali and three non-uniformed men speaking Amharic and Tigrigna burst in, firing their pistols. The three Oromo men and their host’s wife fled but Dima was captured and taken away. There has been no news of him since then.
How fear of refoulement dictates life in Hargeisa is demonstrated by the story of a 33 year-old woman from Harar. She has been in Hargeisa since 2003. She worked as a maid in a Somali home for three months before meeting up with her husband, who was in hiding in the 42
city. Since the beginning of 2008, they have again been living apart, because her husband has been moving frequently to avoid Ethiopian security agents. Their 14 and 9 year-old children are with her.
Role of UNHCR
If there is deportation, they are adapting to it. They are not shocked.
They are silent when refugees are sent back to
Three refugees from Bale and Wallega who were interviewed together. 27 November 2011.
UNHCR officials told Human Rights Watch in 2009 that deportations
frequently occurred within 24 hours of abduction so that there was
no opportunity for refoulement to be prevented.60 However, Social
Science teacher Abdusalem Haji Mukhtar was in detention for over
three months before being refouled on 1 August 2011. UNHCR failed to
prevent this, the Africa desk in
60 Human Rights Watch. Hostages to Peace. 2009. Op.cit. p.44.
Not all attempted refoulements are successful. A 31 year-old man
from a village near Harar, who has been a recognised refugee since
2006, reported being taken by six uniformed
However, UNHCR has been able to do little about recent refoulements.
It was informed by Save the Children staff before they abandoned the
Social Welfare Centre of the refoulements in late October and early
November and confirmed in correspondence that it was working with
Refugees reported to me that UNHCR showed little concern about reports of refoulement, at least in recent years. A 35 year-old farmer from Arsi, who was not at home on the night of 25/26 October, when the snatch squad took two recent arrivals who were visiting him, went into hiding and received reports from his wife that the Ethiopians came back for him several times at night, threatening to take his young children if he did not present himself to them. He said that he reported this to UNHCR and was told ‘We have no soldiers. We can’t put you in our pockets.’
When UNHCR staff member, Hussein (Jamal) Guled, was told about the refoulement of Dima Jilo in October 2008 by the three men who had escaped from the snatch squad (see previous page), he merely asked why the men had ran away from the ‘legal police’.
Several refugees reported that Hussein Guled was dismissive of any reports of abductions and refoulement. He did not believe accounts of refoulement and claimed that those who had disappeared were merely in hiding. He had been trained at the Civil Service College in Addis Ababa, where Ethiopian government cadres were trained and refugees believed their security was much less assured since he began working for UNHCR in 2008. It was widely believed that he at least fraternised with Ethiopian security men in the city and there were hearsay reports of a closer relationship and cooperation in identifying individual refugees. 43
The refugee lens and the culture of disbelief: perspectives on insecurity
Refugees, representatives of UNHCR and officials of the
Persecution, torture and discrimination may lead refugees to expect betrayal. Suspicions are aroused, even against each other. Mostly, they distrust authority. People and organisations entrusted with the protection and welfare of refugees are a likely focus for this paranoia. The distorted perspective of the ‘refugee lens’ must be acknowledged and taken into account when assessing reports made by refugees and asylum-seekers.
There is also an understandable need for refugees to emphasise their insecurity in host countries. Those who are most insecure are more likely to be resettled to a third country by UNHCR. The perspective of UNHCR is therefore to expect exaggeration and to dismiss or minimise refugees’ security concerns. This allows a ‘culture of disbelief’ to be established among the case-hardened, whereby legitimate concerns may be disregarded along with those that are imagined or invented.
UNHCR operates under difficult circumstances. Whereas the safety of
refugees is its priority, it must respect the sovereignty of host
countries. Somaliland is economically and politically tied to and
This labelling, a minimal threshold for suspicion and the human rights abuses to which suspects are prone cause the outpouring of refugees from Ethiopia in the first place. Thus UNHCR operates in a milieu in which the very people it is established to protect are viewed as criminals and terrorists by others and as liars and self-propagandists by at least some of its own staff.
There is, however, no doubt about threats to the security of
refugees and asylum-seekers in
Simplistic labelling of the majority of refugees as economic migrants is at best misleading and at worst complicit in their abuse.
Their insistence on remaining in Hargeisa, with the attendant
destitution, disease, infant mortality and insecurity, despite the
possible availability of assisted return to
All of those who were interviewed by me and by Dr Lindley in 2008
gave credible accounts of life-threatening persecution in
UNHCR and western governments, including that of
If the current supine attitude and lack of intervention continues, refugees and asylum-seekers in Hargeisa will either remain to die of hunger or disease, as easy prey for the Ethiopian security system, or they will be forced to walk elsewhere, leaving a trail of death and misery behind them.
In my opinion:
Supplementary feeding must be reinstated immediately for children of refugees and asylum-seekers in Hargeisa.
Despite the misgivings of the
Unregistered asylum-seekers should be assessed for registration as a matter of urgency.
If it is not possible to provide, within a very short period,
support to destitute refugees and asylum-seekers in Hargeisa, in
order to prevent continuing deaths, UNHCR must arrange for the
transfer of refugees and asylum-seekers from Hargeisa to a place
where such support can be provided - that is to refugee camps in
Dr Trevor Trueman, Chair, Oromia Support Group. 21 February 2012. 45
Hargeisa: refoulements, abductions, killings, deaths and attacks.
20.10.96 Three ONLF central committee members, who had been detained
since 31 July, are handed over to
Dec.1997 Ethiopian soldiers abduct seven Oromo from Borama,
including Hassan Abdalla Abdurahman, Ali Aba Wari, Tahile Birbir
Tola and Abduljabar Tola Torba, and remove them to
15.3.00 OLF report over 300 Oromo refugees from around Hargeisa
handed over to
10.4.02 A large number of Ogaden Somali visitors and residents
rounded up in Hargeisa and many handed over to
30.11.03 75 Ogaden Somalis detained in Hargeisa ready to be handed over to Ethiopian security forces in December.
Dec.2005 52 Oromo and their families complain of violence during forced removal from UNHCR office.
2006 Six Eritreans disappear and are thought to be deported to
4.4.07 Villager from near Harar, 31 year-old recognised refugee,
taken during day- time by six uniformed
Sept.2007 Three defecting Ethiopian soldiers, including Ilala
Mohamed and Geremu Tesfaye, arrested and handed over to
6.10.07 Mr Yadata, an Oromo resident in Hargeisa, shot dead by two gunmen while walking to a friend’s house.
7.10.07 An Oromo, Abbas Abdalla Said, abducted from his workplace by
13.10.07 Five Ogaden Somalis handed over to
Jan.2008 Four Oromo abducted and handed over to Ethiopian forces at Wachale, including Abba Cali Abba Biya, Riyad Kamal Hussein and Jamal Wallega. TPLF security agents in Hargeisa reported to be carrying list of 40 wanted suspects.
2.2.08 UNHCR recognised refugee Bayan Muktar Mohamed, father of five, taken from Wachale. Later returned ‘in a critical condition’ with one hand paralysed.
15.2.08 Abdulmalik Adam Abdullahi, 32, taken from workplace as a security guard in Hargeisa and tortured in Jigjiga military camp for one month. Released ‘in critical condition’. Arrest due to ‘mistaken identity.’
May 2008 Businessmen and long-term residents of Hargeisa, Harir Mohamoud Dool and Andinassir Aw Muhumed, detained and handed over to Ethiopian forces, transferred to incommunicado detention in Jigjiga.
13.10.08 Dima Jilo, in his early 30s, taken when four men (one Somali and three speaking Amharic and Tigrigna, non-uniformed, firing pistols) attack the 46
home of another refugee in Hargeisa. Three other men and one woman run to safety. Dima disappears.
15.10.08 Twelve Oromo detained in Hargeisa, tortured and handed over
to Ethiopian security forces two days later, including recognised
refugees Mohamed Ahmed Mohamud and Mohamed Sheika. Mohamed Ahmed
Mamoud tortured and kept in solitary confinement in an underground
cell until he escaped and made his way to
10.2.10 Recognised refugee Yasin Adam Ahmed, whose resettlement
10.2.10 Bishaaro Wa’adi Shaqlane, Ogaden women’s activist in Ogaden
Women’s Democratic Alliance, former torture victim, detained in
Hargeisa and handed over to
May 2010 Abdi Mohammed Ibrahim, ca35, lame from torture, his wife, Iftu Mohammed, (approx) ca 25, and their two children, 3 years and 18 months, are burnt to death in Hargeisa, when petrol is poured on their home and set alight.
28.5.10 Four Oromo UNHCR recognised refugees abducted by Amharic speaking soldiers in Ethiopian army uniforms at 8 pm from Sha’abka district in Hargeisa: Fahmi Kalif Adam, Mohammed Saani Mohammed, Abdi Yusuf Adam and Raajuu/Jeylan Jibril Kadir.
1.6.10 Abdurahman Ibrahim abducted from same area.
5.6.10 Bontu Sharaf (businesswoman) abducted in border town of
Dec.2010 Elias Iraya, an Eritrean, disappears from Hargeisa.
Early 2011 Kadir Aman Siraz, an Amhara, disappears from Hargeisa.
2006-11 Three Eritrean refugees and one asylum-seeker are refouled or disappeared from Hargeisa in this period, according to local sources.
20.4.11 Abdusalem Haji Mukhtar, a Social Science teacher who had
assisted Dr Anna Lindley, researcher from the
2.8.11 Seyifudin Faqoo Mohamed, registered asylum seeker, has right leg amputated below the knee following work accident. He is warned not to go to court to claim compensation.
21.10.11 At least 30 Ogaden Somalis arrested on Somaliland side of
Loyada, the border town with
25/26.10.11 Abdurahman Mohamed Qabatoo (Sheikh Abdurahman Qabatoo), 55, reported to be a recognised refugee, head of a family of 9, taken 5.00 a.m. from Toqdeer, Hargeisa.
Riyad Kemal Hussen, mandate refugee, 45, father of two, taken at midnight from Huzbey, Hargeisa. He was refouled previously, (see January 2008, above), detained for one year, during which his wife died in Hargeisa.
Ali Ibrahim Haji, reported to be a refugee, a pharmacist, 45, head of family of 5, abducted from Hargeisa.
The snatch squad, described as armed, in plain clothes and speaking Amharic and Tigrigna, visit the home in Hargeisa of another refugee (not named for security reasons). In his absence, they remove two recent arrivals: Mohammed Tika and Abdurahman, both in their early twenties. 47
2+9.11.11 Siblings Ebsa Abdulkader, 1 year, and Beles Abdulkader, 2 years, children of registered asylum-seekers, die at Social Welfare Centre.
10.11.11 Abdishukuur Mohamed Usman, registered asylum-seeker, 43,
head of family of seven, from Darolabu,
Another registered asylum-seeker abducted from his home in Hargeisa but escapes from detention, with one arm broken. Name not released for security reasons.
7.12.11 The home of recognised refugee Alamudin Mohamed Waleye is burnt down, hours after he is warned by local people to leave the area.
11.12.11 Farani Jalan Hussein, 1 year-old boy, dies at Social Welfare Centre.
2.1.12 Registered asylum-seeker Sadiq Hussein Hassan, mid-30s,
security guard at a Somali home, taken at night from his residence
in Alameda, Hargeisa, by men speaking Amharic and Tigrigna in two
cars. Taken straight to
Two other men, reported to be an asylum-seeker aged about 40 and a recognised refugee aged about 30, not named for security reasons, taken the same night but were released at the border.
One year-old boy, Mohammed Sada, and one day-old girl, Amina Mohammed Amin, die at Social Welfare Centre.
8.1.12 Fifteen arrested at the market in Haror village in the north of Hargeisa.
Two month-old girl, Efatu Hussein Mohammed, dies at Social Welfare Centre.
9.1.12 Six month-old boy, Ensa Ibrahim Yonas, dies at Social Welfare Centre.
10+17.1.12 Twin boys born on 10.1.12, Mohammed and Hussein Usmale Ali, children of registered asylum-seekers, die at Social Welfare Centre.
12.1.12 Yasin Ali Mohammed disappears in Hargeisa after leaving the Social Welfare Centre to buy food.
16.1.12 Four week-old boy, Roba Hussein, and one year-old boy, Basaso Mohammed Zubor (son of recognised refugee), die at Social Welfare Centre.
These two deaths bring the number of infant deaths at the Social Welfare Centre to eleven in seven weeks and eight in the 15 days of 2-16 January.
18.1.12 Registered asylum-seeker, Mustafa Jamal Kinso, aged 16, dies at Social Welfare Centre after long illness.
22.1.12 47 reported severely ill at Social Welfare Centre: 25 children (all on recognised refugee files) and 22 adults (9 recognised refugees and 13 registered asylum-seekers).
11.2.12 Ali Oromo, aged 25, is killed after leaving Social Welfare Centre to buy food. Cause of death disputed between car accident and stabbing.
15.2.12 Ahmed Mohammed Musa, 65, dies at Social Welfare Centre after a long illness.
This list is compiled from information obtained by the Oromia
Support Group directly from victims and their relatives and friends
or from other organisations. It is by no means exhaustive and merely
represents a sample of abuses meted out to refugees and
Interviews with refugees in Hargeisa, 25-27 November 2011.
Names are fictitious.
S1. Kalid, M, 28,
He worked as a textiles trader at Sidist Kilo in
He stayed in Jigjiga for 19 months, existing on money sent from
Initially, Kalid lived with a Ugandan friend in a rented house and
was supported financially by him. When his friend was resettled in
Kalid was one of about 50 cases who were interviewed for refugee status determination in 2008 and one of approximately 25 who were granted refugee status (in August 2010).
S2. Dagles, M, 45, Jigjiga, Somali Region. Oromo.
He made his living as a pictorial artist and craftsman. Dagles had moved from Jigjiga to Jimma, Western Oromia Region, as a young man and had been married and raised three children there. He returned to Jigjiga when his first wife died, married again and had five more children. In 1991, the OLF, which was then a part of the transitional government, had an office in Jigjiga and commissioned a painting from Dagles. He was not affiliated to any political party and said he was ‘neutral to politics’. 50
After the OLF were banned, he kept the painting in his home. In 1995, the EPRDF commissioned a work from him but a conflict arose about payment. During the course of their disagreement, government officials noticed the picture he had painted for the OLF and accused him of being a member.
Dagles was called to the Jigjiga airforce base and warned. Soon afterwards, soldiers came to search his house, and found a rifle and ammunition which his second wife had hidden there. He had been unaware that she was a member of the OLF.
To protect his wife, Dagles said the rifle was his and was taken to Gara Basa military camp, where he was beaten and whipped with electric cable, including on the soles of his feet (bastinado). After two months, he was transferred to Jigjiga federal prison and remained there for two years. Although conditions were poor, he was not tortured and was visited by ICRC.
Dagles was then transferred to a military camp, where he was again tortured. He was interrogated and beaten with his hands tied behind his back most days (15 days on then 4 days off, he estimated) for the next three years. He was beaten with fists and wooden batons, pistol-whipped, kicked and whipped with electric cable. Weights were suspended from his testicles.
During interrogation, he and his co-detainees were asked to report that rich Oromo in Jigjiga were involved with the OLF, so that they could be arrested and their belongings and businesses confiscated. Six of his cell mates died during this time.
He and several friends were released in 2000. He was re-arrested on his way back home in Jigjiga and two of his friends, Negussie Getachew and one other, were shot dead, in their homes shortly after their return. Dagles was detained for another two years, before his eventual release in September 2002. Within two months he was in Hargeisa.
Dagles lives with three of his children, aged 8, 16 and 18 and
depends on friends with whom they live. His second wife is now in
S3. Addis-Hiyot, F, 46, Holata,
She was a successful merchant and trader of textiles and
non-perishable goods, working with a network of women traders in
In February 2005, Addis-Hyot was travelling with goods from Harar and was stopped at a checkpoint at Awash. Guns and ammunition were found among her goods. Addis-Hiyot denies knowing they were there. Government soldiers photographed her and took her back to Harar, accusing her of transporting weapons for no specific opposition group.
Her home in
Soldiers raped her at Harar prison. ‘They played with me - with different bad sexual intercourse with me. I’m afraid to tell you my secrets and show you the scars on my body.’
She was beaten with rifle butts, especially during her first interrogation. She was whipped with electric cable, mostly across her back, and kicked with heavy army boots. She wet herself during beating and has remained incontinent of urine since.
There were four women in her cell. The other detainees were ordinary criminals and she does not know if they were raped. She was raped by her interrogator, at night every 2-3 days, during the beating and interrogation process. The guards changed every 12 hours. The one who used to accompany her to the toilet at night raped her every two days or so, whenever there were no other soldiers around.
After one month, she escaped when pretending she needed the toilet and was willing to have sex with the guard. She was taken by drivers that she knew, via Jigjiga and Wachale, to Hargeisa.
Within a short time of arrival, before the end of March 2005, Addis-Hiyot was granted refugee status.
In mid-2010, four men, strangers, broke into her home in Hargeisa, breaking her right wrist when she tried to fight them off. Each of the four men raped her for one day. They were joined by two others and on the second day all six of them raped her. She reported this to the police and the six men were arrested, but were released within 24 hours, after their families paid money to the police. The police told her ‘There is no problem. Somalis are also raped.’
She said ‘I feel shame and wish I’d never been born. I dislike myself. Every corner of my life is dark.’
S4. Zelalem, M, 35, Abomsa, Arsi. Oromo.
He was an arable farmer who was detained for two years, 1992-1994, with thousands of other Oromo in Hurso military camp, because they had supported the OLF when it was part of the transitional government between 1991 and 1992.
In early 2005, Zelalem was attending the funeral of his cousin, Gosaye Mamu, aged 25, who had been shot dead by government soldiers. EPRDF forces fired upon the mourners and arrested Zelalem and four others. The five men were loaded into a vehicle and attempted to escape. One ran off. Three were shot dead - Sufian Tahir, aged 25, and two teenagers, 52
Jemal Abdulla and Uso Said, all residents of Abomsa. Zelalem was wounded in his right leg and abdomen.
He was taken to Abomsa military camp, where his wounds were dressed by military medical assistants. He was handcuffed and shackled at his ankles for three months, with one hand released for toilet purposes only.
Once he had recovered from his injuries he was beaten with electric cables and sticks. (He bears many scars on his legs, see p.17) His jaw was broken during one episode of beating.
Once or twice a week for the first year, in the middle of the night ‘They put a pistol in my mouth and said “We are about to kill you”.’
One night at the end of 2006, using a knife smuggled into the camp, he cut through the roof of the hut in which he was held and ran off. Other prisoners followed and he heard shots being fired. Two mornings later, he arrived at a relative’s house. His escape had been publicly announced. He was given shoes and 100 Birr. He made his way to Mechara in western Hararge and rode in a lorry at night to Harar. He then walked for seven days, arriving in Hargeisa at the beginning of January 2007.
Zelalem was granted refugee status in 2007. On the night of 25 October 2011, when three refugees were abducted in Hargeisa, Zelalem’s home in Hargeisa was visited by the snatch team. They asked for him by name but he was not at home. Two newcomers to Hargeisa who were staying with him and who were yet to register with UNHCR and apply for refugee status, were taken by the abduction squad. Their names were Mohamed Tika and Abdurahman, both in their early twenties. The men who took them away were armed and dressed in plain clothes. They spoke in Amharic and Tigrigna.
Zelalem went to stay at the Social Welfare Centre in Hargeisa. His wife reported that the Ethiopians came back for him several times at night, threatening to take his young children if he did not present himself to them. He said that he reported this to UNHCR and was told ‘We have no soldiers. We can’t put you in our pockets.’
S5. Akele Gebrehiwot, M, 41, Tigray Region. Tigrean.
He was a member of the TPLF party and a Lieutenant in the army,
responsible for training soldiers in heavy artillery. After the war
Akele was imprisoned in Badme on 10 June 2001 and asked ‘Why do you support the Siye ideology?’ He was asked to sign a document admitting his error and apologise. He reported being told ‘If you sign, you’ll be released. If you don’t, you will die. That is you choice.’ He refused, saying he was an innocent soldier who had made no mistakes.
He was held in underground cells in Badme with a total of 15-20 other soldiers who were supporters of Siye Abraha. There were two others in his cell. He was beaten and interrogated, pistol-whipped across his face (losing some of his front teeth), and whipped with electric cable on his legs.
After repeated requests, he was taken to the military hospital in Badme and near the end of August, after being there for eight days, he received a warning from a friend that he was to be killed and that he must get out within two days. He drank a solution of washing powder and developed vomiting and diarrhoea, for which he needed frequent trips to the toilet. During one of these, he pretended to slip in mud. When being helped up, he overpowered his guard and escaped from the camp, despite being shot at.
He went via
In 2005, he was granted refugee status and was interviewed for resettlement by Canadian immigration officials in October 2006. He has not had a response yet. He was assessed as one of the 153 vulnerable cases for whom assistance from UNHCR continued after the beginning of 2011.
He lives in a Somali dwelling in the Jigjigaher area of Hargeisa, for which he pays $15/month. He said that his landlord, like many Somalis ‘does not like Habash; they don’t like us being Christian; they call us gaal’ (non-Muslim). ‘We are abused for speaking our language . . . we are blamed for making the city dirty, bringing TB and HIV.’
‘The Ethiopian and
S6. Dursitu, F, 32,61 Iyata, Deder, Hararge. Oromo.
61 This, in view of her history, is likely to be an inaccurate estimation of her age.
She had supported the OLF before it was made illegal and was forced
to flee to
Thirteen were taken out from Kotoni unofficial detention centre and taken to a ravine, where they were shot. Twelve were killed and Dursitu was injured in her left thigh and abdomen. (She has extensive scarring and has had pain and blood in her urine since the injury.)
She was then taken to Dire Dawa military camp where she was held for the next eight years. There, she was dressed only in a thin shawl. She was handcuffed for a prolonged period; with her hands behind for 4-5 days at a time and then with her hands in front for 4-5 days and so on.
Scarring from bullet wound to left thigh.
Her arms were tied tightly above the elbows behind her back for up to 24 hours, many times, resulting in weakness of her hands which took many months to recover. Torture and interrogation continued like this for two months and 18 days. She and her fellow detainees were hidden when ICRC visited the camp.
There was insufficient time to enquire further about her treatment in detention and the question of rape was not explored. The location of interviews was exposed and was attracting attention and interest. Therefore the interview had to be abandoned.
S7. Yaadatu, F, 38, Harar, Hararge. Oromo.
Her husband was first detained in 1995. Despite his being in detention, Yaadatu was visited by security forces during that year and was asked where he was.62 He escaped and fled to Hargeisa in 1997 but was subject to refoulement in 1998 and detained at Harar military camp until 2002. He was held in underground cells, which have previously been reported at the camp. At release, he was weak and scarred from being tortured.
regarding the whereabouts of relatives who were thought to have been
killed or who had disappeared in custody was reported by 5 of 31
women refugees interviewed in
Because of harassment by security forces, she was forced to move to
Jigjiga in 1998, where her husband joined her in 2002. Further
harassment forced them to move to Tulu Guled,
In Hargeisa, Yaadatu worked as a maid in a Somali home for three months before meeting up with her husband, who was in hiding here. Since the beginning of 2008, they have again been living apart. Her husband has been moving frequently to avoid Ethiopian security 55
agents. Their 14 and 9 year-old children are with her and she has refugee status in her own right.
Until the government announcement in September 2011, which forbade employment of immigrants, she worked for about ten days each month cleaning houses and washing clothes, earning 10-15,000 Somali Shillings ($3-5) per day. Since the withdrawal of cash support from UNHCR, she had got behind with her rent. She owed eight months rent when she moved into the Social Welfare Centre at the beginning of November 2011.
S8. Mulis, M, 38, Chalanko, Hararge. Oromo.
He was a farmer who had completed Grade 9 education when he supported the, then legal, OLF in 1991. Mulis was among the 20-45,000 Oromo who were detained in 1992 and early 1993 and was held in Hurso military camp for 15 months. From about 2000, he spent two or three years in Harar military camp and Garowa prison.
He said he was beaten and tortured in every place of detention. He was detained in underground cells in Harar camp. His arms were tied tightly above the elbows behind his back for up to 12 hours at a time. He was forced to eat faeces. His wrists were handcuffed and his ankles shackled for up to 15 days at a time. On one occasion, he was taken to see two dead bodies in a dark cell and was forced to stay with them for two days.
He was eventually released after his family paid 5000 Birr and he signed a ‘last warning’. He agreed to avoid meeting other groups of people and to avoid public gatherings and celebrations. He agreed not to read newspapers or listen to the OLF radio station, Sagalee Bilisumma Oromo. He was not allowed to move from his village and was made to report to his kebele office every week.
He complained about the high interest on government loans to buy seeds and the high prices farmers were forced to pay. Farmers were going hungry. He was again accused of being involved with the OLF and was called to a kebele meeting, where he was expected to agree to ‘work with the government.’ ‘Any criticism of the government and you are called OLF’ he said. Other farmers in the kebele kowtowed to the government but he decided to leave and come to Hargeisa, arriving in November 2003.
Mulis was granted refugee status in 2007. He has not found employment but his wife found work for one or two days each week until about the end of September. They manage to feed their two and four year-old children but often go to bed hungry themselves. His wife and children have been living at the Social Welfare Centre for one month. He moves from place to place because he believes he is sought by Ethiopian government agents. 56
One of the men with whom he was detained in
S9. Qiltu, M, 29, Robe, Bale. Oromo.
He was a geography student at Dilla university who was not at all politically active, although a dynamic and vocal individual.
Qiltu was arrested by Federal Police while visiting his parents in Robe on 2 January 2006. He was taken to Ginir military camp and accused of organising students at Dilla university for the OLF. He was taken straight to a room used for interrogation and torture, beaten and told ‘We know you are the chairman of an OLF cell - admit it.’
The senior army officer for Bale, named Dajan, put his pistol into Qiltu’s mouth to encourage him to say he was involved with the OLF. When he would not do so, Dajan handed him over to interrogators, telling them to give him ‘severe punishment’. During this first session, he was beaten with rifle butts about the head, leaving scars on his scalp.
He was beaten on the soles of his feet with electric cable and wooden batons, so severely that he could not stand. For this ‘bastinado’ torture, his feet were hoisted up an a rope while his hands were tied behind his back on the floor. This was repeated every night for the next 17 nights and thereafter every 2-3 days until he had been kept alone in the torture room for 30 days.
Qiltu was then transferred to an underground cell, through a trapdoor in the ground and held there with eight other men, all accused of involvement with the OLF. He remained here for one year, being brought out about once a week to be questioned, beaten and kicked, but not subjected to any more torture. He spent 12 months without seeing daylight and there were no ICRC visits to the camp.
Two men in his cell, Abdusalem Desta, about 30, and Falmata Oromo, about 37, died of injuries and malnutrition on the same day, 22 March 2006. Qiltu helped bury the men in the camp. He knows of two other deaths in the camp but not their names.
He believes it was because of these deaths and possibly pressure from ICRC and the media that he was transferred to Goba federal prison, where he was held with 7-8000 other prisoners, ordinary criminals as well as political prisoners. There were 35-40 in his cell and just enough space for them all to lie down. 57
Qiltu was warned that if he mentioned his treatment at Ginir to any other prisoners, he would be sent back there. He became sick with yellow fever and malaria after three months in Goba and was released on 28 July 2007. In order to be released, he was made to sign a document agreeing to attend for questioning whenever summoned, to stay in Robe, and never to disclose what had happened to him in detention.
He went to live with his parents. In September 2007, while he was at a market, he was told by friends that he was being sought and that his parents had been arrested from their home in his absence. He ran to a relative’s home in Adaba, from where he received confirmation of his parents’ arrest, received some money and travelled via Adama (Nazaret), Harar, Jigjiga and Wachale to Hargeisa, arriving on 21 September 2007.
He has married here and lives with his wife in a Somali dwelling in
the Sha’ab district, paying $25/month. They received an allowance
from UNHCR until 1.1.11. He does not work but receives $100 every
1-3 months from relatives in
He has mandate status, reporting that he slept outside of UNHCR for
nine months in order to get it. He submitted an application for
Qiltu was detained for about two weeks about four weeks after the
interview, after receiving threats from a member of the
S10. Imee Wayyuu, M, 42, Harar, Hararge. Oromo.
He was a cattle trader who supported the OLF from 1991 to 1992 and was detained in Hurso military camp for one year, from 1994-1995. In tears, he reported that more than 1500 died from food poisoning at the camp and that their bodies were left out for hyenas and other animals. He said ‘dogs ate their bones’.
Scarring over right collar bone which was broken when struck with a rifle barrel.
In January 1996, Imee was involved in a demonstration at Harar and was beaten severely with the barrel of a rifle. He has extensive scarring over his right collar bone, which was broken, and on his scalp. He was taken from the demonstration to Sebategna military camp in Dire Dawa and held in a small underground cell with three others.
He was questioned about his acquaintances, beaten with rifle butts and wooden batons, and whipped with electric cable. During these interrogation sessions, for 3-4 hours twice a week, his arms were tied above the elbows, tightly behind his back. His hands were partially paralysed for one year as a result. He named his main torturers as Belay, a Tigrean, and Kadir, an Oromo. 58
Imee described being taken once to a pit in the camp, in which lay a dead body. He was told ‘Tell the truth about what you know, about the supporters and members of the OLF. If you don’t, we’ll do the same to you.’
He said ‘Lots of prisoners died. . . . One man in his twenties from Shashemane strangled himself to death with a shoe lace. . . . I heard many being tortured. . . . Too many shocking things happened for me to tell you them all.’
When he was released, the authorities called for him to be
ostracised, referring to him as a ‘gangster’. His wife’s family
forced her to divorce him. She went to
At the end of 1997, Imee went to
He was not detained immediately on his return to
Pigmentation of scars from beating.
Imee was held at the police training college for one year. He was interrogated, beaten with wooden batons and tortured, his hands and feet being shackled together for up to eight days at a time. One hand was released for toilet purposes but not for meals.
When released in July 2000, he went by truck to Wachale and walked the 80 km to Hargeisa in three days.
Imee was recognised as seeking asylum in 2001 and was given mandate refugee status in 2004. Until early September 2011, he worked as a temporary watchman for one or two days a week, earning 10-15,000 SSh ($6-9)/day. He has looked for work since then but found it impossible. ‘When I go looking for work, since the government announced it was illegal, local people grab me and tell me to go home’ he said.
Imee lives in a Somali dwelling for which he pays 30,000 SSh ($18)/month. He now owes more than six months rent. ‘My landlord is a good man but he is now losing patience’ he said. 59
‘The local community and the world do not understand our situation.
There are lots of organisations working in
The government tells lies about us. Any legal refugees are prevented from working.’
‘There is no difference between this government and the Ethiopian government.’
S11. Karayu, M, 28, Jajar, E. Hararge. Oromo.
He was a grade 10 secondary school student and earned money as a barber, when he was involved in Oromo student demonstrations in November 2005.63 Karayu was arrested with about ten other students and taken from his school to a barn-like building in a village far from his school. In all, about 25 students were held there for one month, with very little food and water.
Beating soles of the feet, ‘bastinado,’ usually leaves little scarring.
63 Widespread student protests began on 9 November across Oromia Region and continued sporadically until June 2006. Hundreds were arrested and 67 were reported killed. OSG named 20 of those killed and 339 who were detained. In addition, 19 Oromo detainees in Kaliti prison were shot dead in their cells in November 2005. See OSG Report 42, August 2006, pp.20-38.
He described being mistreated by ‘special forces - riot police’. Every second night, after getting drunk and chewing qat, they beat the detainees with sticks and rifle butts and kicked them with heavy military boots.
Three times in that month, Karayu had his hands and feet tied together behind his back, so that his torso was arched backwards. He was put front-down on gravel, which therefore dug into his sternum and chest. He was left in this position (known as ‘rocking horse’) for about 90 minutes each time. He described coughing blood following this.
The 25 were taken from this unofficial place of detention to Harar federal prison, where he was held in solitary confinement in an underground cell for three months. Initially, he was taken out two or three times a week for ‘bastinado’ - torture by severe beating of the soles of the feet. This occurred less frequently toward the end of his detention there.
He was released after appearing in court. ‘The judge did not believe the three false witnesses’ he said. He paid a 2000 Birr bond to be released but signed no documents agreeing to conditions.
Karayu returned to Jajar but was arrested that day and held for two days by local militia in his village. He escaped when they were relaxing and chewing qat. He fled via Jigjiga and Wachale to Hargeisa. 60
Karayu was awarded mandate refugee status in 2008. Before the restrictions imposed by the government, he earned $1/day for 5-10 days/month, emptying chemical toilets. He, his wife and their two children lived in a Somali dwelling, which they rented for 20,000 SSh ($12) per month.
He got into debt after the allowance from UNHCR was stopped at the beginning of the year and his family was evicted when he owed nine months rent. The landlord’s wife began beating Karayu’s wife when they failed to pay the rent. When they were evicted, the landlord kept all their possessions and clothes in lieu of payment. They have been living at the Social Welfare Centre since the beginning of November and eat only once each day.
S12. Asiya, F, ca25, Kiyo, Deder, Hararge. Oromo.
She and her husband had a large arable farm, six cattle and a few goats. Her husband was arrested by the Kiyo kebele chairman and he was held in the kebele prison for 20 days in 2004, falsely accused of being involved with the OLF. He was released after signing a document foreswearing the OLF.
Asiya and her second child.
Eight months later, four soldiers came to her house in her husband’s absence, looking for him. Two entered the house and searched it. He fled when told of the visit on returning home at about 7.00 p.m.. The soldiers returned about midnight and kicked down the door when she refused to open it to them.
They made her walk, holding her 13 month-old baby, at gunpoint to Deder military camp, normally a one or two hour walk from her home. The four men, three uniformed government soldiers and one local militia member, each raped her on that journey.
Asiya was held, with her child, at Deder military camp for 25 days. Every night when there was a change of guard, she was called from her cell. She was knocked down, kicked with military boots in her back, and raped. She was raped once or twice every night. She estimates that she was raped by 12-15 soldiers in the camp. She says that she has had pains in her back and left buttock since then.
The chairman of her kebele came to the camp and arranged for her release for a three day period, during which she was expected to produce her husband. ‘We won’t harm him. We only want to talk to him. Then you will be free’ they told her. ‘I agreed only to save my life’ she said at interview.
Although a soldier shadowed her after her release, she was able to flee after two days. She took two days to reach Jigjiga, having gone on foot to Kobo, where she obtained some medicine for her baby, who was ill from being in prison. She spent a day in Jigjiga and 61
travelled to Wachale in a 4X4 with a qat merchant, to whom she paid 20-30 Birr. From Wachale, she went by bus to Hargeisa.
She had been in Hargeisa for three years when she was reunited with
her husband, who had been in Boro, in a distant area of
The couple rented a Somali dwelling for 20,000 SSh ($12)/month but their landlord increased the rent to 35,000 SSh ($21) four months ago and they were evicted after being unable to pay for two months. Their landlord confiscated all their belongings and clothes one month ago in lieu of payment and they moved to the Social Welfare Centre.
S13. Saatu, F, 31, Falana, a village near Kombolcha, E. Hararge. Oromo.
She worked on a family farm and supported the OLF. She was detained in Falana military camp for one year from 1997. The military camp is in the middle of four villages at Falana. She knew many who died and many from each of the four villages who disappeared in detention at the camp.
She was held with 300 other women, of all ages, in one room. There was not enough room for all of them to sleep at once. They squatted on the floor, wrapped only in a shawl. She saw three dead prisoners.
She was injured in her right buttock, after being beaten with a rifle barrel and was not herself raped. However, ‘many women were taken by soldiers at night’ she said. She believes they were raped but ‘they wouldn’t say, if they had been raped.’
As well as being beaten and kicked, she had her arms tied tightly with electric cable above the elbows behind her back for 3-4 hours at a time. The cable cut into her flesh. Due to this arm-tying ‘Many had paralysed hands and were unable to eat’ she said. ‘Many did not recover. I know five or six like this.’
On release, she signed a document acknowledging she would be shot if she was found to be involved again with the OLF. Kebele officials ordered that she be shunned in the village and neighbours were forbidden to even talk to her. She was isolated and discriminated against. She was unable to marry in her village, but eventually married a man from elsewhere and they had three children. 62
In the pre-election period in 2005, surrounding farmers were called to a meeting and told that action would be taken against anyone supporting the OLF. Two weeks after the election, all suspected opposition supporters were being rounded up. She was at the home of a friend and heard that she was wanted and that several of her friends had been detained. She left her oldest child with relatives and took her youngest two children to Hargeisa.
Saatu’s sister fled to
They now have four children with them in Hargeisa. They live together with Saatu’s sister in a Somali dwelling which cost 30,000 SSh ($18)/month. Saatu earned up to 5000 SSh/day, 10-15 days a month, cleaning and washing clothes. Her husband earned 10,000 SSh per day for between three and ten days a month, digging latrine pits. Sometimes their employers refused to pay them. They have not worked since the government announcement.
There were ‘great problems’ when their allowance from UNHCR ($80/month) was stopped in January 2011. They owed four months’ rent when they were evicted one month ago and went to live at the Social Welfare Centre. All their possessions were left in their home.
S14. Nantukini, M, 31, Funyanbira village, near Harar, Hararge. Oromo.
He was a successful vegetable and coffee farmer when there was a skirmish between government forces and the OLF on his land in December 1999. The day following the fighting, although he was not involved with the OLF, he was taken to Babile military camp, about 40-50 km away.
He was kept behind a screen in a small toilet, which was still used by soldiers, for one month. Every night, he was beaten with gun barrels and wooden batons and was whipped with electric cable. Scars from these beatings are still visible on his shins.
Nantukini was then transferred to Sebategna military camp in Dire Dawa. For one month there, he was tortured every second night. His feet were hoisted up on a rope which was slung over a hook, while he lay on the floor with his hands tied behind his back. The soles of his feet were beaten (‘bastinado’) with wooden staves and police truncheons. Afterwards, he was drenched with cold water. All the time, he was asked ‘Who is a member [of the OLF]? Who is a supporter? Where are their guns?’ He said ‘Every time I said “I don’t know”, they badly attacked me.’
He was then transferred to Maikelawi Central Investigation
It was June 2000 when he was transferred from Maikelawi CID to
Karchale Central Prison (federal prison) in
Similar restrictions applied to his next place of detention, Dire Dawa federal prison, where he remained for three years and four months. Like others, he was ill with diarrhoea and malaria. Prisoners were infested with lice and fleas. ‘You had no treatment unless you were unconscious’ he said. After he had been there about two years, two other prisoners died due to torture injuries and medical neglect: Isaac Jemal, ca 30, and Ahmed Abdalla, ca 55.
In May 2005, after 5½ years in detention, Nantukini appeared in court and was released. The state produced no witnesses against him. He was made to sign a document which stated that he would come for questioning whenever requested and would have no contact with other people.
One month after he returned home, he was followed everywhere by security men. He was visited at home every day. Security men started coming to his house to chew qat. They ‘said bad things about the government’, enticing him to join in the criticism.
His father advised him to live in another place on the farm but security men came looking for him and were told he had gone to a distant market. He fled to another village, collected some money from relatives and walked five days to reach Hargeisa.
He used to live in a Somali dwelling with his wife and their two children, aged 3 years and four months. His wife earned 5-6000 SSh (about $3) on one or two days each week by washing clothes but this work dried up following the government announcement in September. Their rent was increased from 30,000 to 35,000 SSh ($18-21)/month. One month before the interview, they were evicted because they owed four months’ rent and began camping at the Social Welfare Centre.
Nantukini was granted refugee status by UNHCR in 2006. He is among
32 who were interviewed for resettlement in
During daytime on 4 April 2007, he was taken by six uniformed
S15. Yusuf, M, 22, Kombolcha, Hararge. Oromo.
He was a student in Harar, living with his parents, when he came to Hargeisa with his family in 2006. His father had been imprisoned for eight years, from 1997 to 2005. For six years he had been held in Maikelawi CID, where he had been tortured, kept in handcuffs for two months at a time and held in an underground cell for 17 months. 64
When Yusuf’s father was released, he was followed. While at his cousin’s house in 2006, the house came under fire and his cousin was killed. Yusuf’s father escaped from a window and, after being given 400 Birr at the office of an international NGO, fled with his family to Hargeisa.
The family (parents, three boys and three girls) rented a small
house for $50/month. Yusuf earned $15-20/month giving private
The family were awarded refugee status in 2010 and submitted for
resettlement. Yusuf complained that they have been given differing
accounts by staff at UNHCR - that their resettlement application has
been sent to
Yusuf’s father fears that refoulement of refugees is more likely if they have made successful resettlement claims.
S16. Hargayabor, M, 35, Makanesa, Goro Gutu, E. Hararge. Oromo.
He was a cereal, coffee and qat farmer and a merchant. He supported the OLF. Hargayabor was selling goods at a market in Arta Sheikh, near Jigjiga, when he was arrested in December 1999. He believes he had been named by another OLF supporter under torture.
Hargayabor was held at Arta Sheikh military camp for three days in a tiny cell in which there was only room to squat. His hands and feet were shackled together so that it was impossible to lie down even if there had been room. On the first day, he was merely beaten severely.
On two occasions on the second day and three times on the third day, for 4-5 minutes, he was given electric shocks applied through a panel on which he was made to squat. Throughout, he was told ‘Admit your involvement with the OLF and we’ll stop hurting you.’ The shocks threw his whole body into spasm so that he was dashed against the walls, floor and top of the small cage. ‘It was like a hundred people fighting me’ he said. He still has scars on his head from this episode. He became unconscious on the third day and was transferred to Babile military camp.
Hargayabor was again tortured with electric shocks at Babile. One soldier questioned him while another administered the shocks for about a minute at a time. He was strapped into a chair, which he described moving up and down. Electrodes were applied to each wrist. The muscle spasms caused the straps to bite into his arms and he described bleeding from his fingertips. Afterwards, he was thrown into a cell, where he was kept alone for two months. He was kicked and punched by guards on his way to and from the toilet. 65
He was then taken to Sebategna military camp in Dire Dawa, where he stayed for one month. Here, he was forced to do squat-jumps. He was by this time too weak to comply and was beaten as a result. He begged for medicine but was told ‘You are the enemy. I would prefer to give you poison, not medicine.’
Drawn by Hargayabor.
‘I cannot tell you all of the bad things that happened to me’ he said.
Hargayabor then spent four months in Maikelawi CID, where he was
beaten with sticks once a week but was also subject to a different
interrogation technique. He was spoken to softly and given food and
coca cola, while being encouraged gently to talk. Conditions were
however still poor. His only access to light, apart from the
interrogation sessions, was for 15 minutes twice each day during
toilet breaks. He developed skin problems due to the dirt and lack
of access to water. He believes that his eventual appearance in
court and his subsequent transfer to Karchale federal prison in
Hargayabor was kept in Karchale, with 2000 other prisoners, for 19 months. He was in handcuffs for the whole of this period, except for toilet breaks, and his wrists became chafed. He asked why he was being treated so roughly and was told it was because of orders from Maikelawi. He reported ‘No-one was allowed to talk to me. If anyone walked or talked with me, they were punished that night.’
Hargayabor was then transferred to Dire Dawa, where he spent a month in the police headquarters and a month in the military camp before going to the federal prison. He remained there for over three years, until released on 30 May 2005, after appearing in court when the government provided no witnesses for the prosecution. He was made to put a fingerprint to documents written in Amharic, which he could not read.
Drawn by Hargayabor
Four weeks after being released, he was told by his sister that soldiers had come to one of his father’s houses looking for him, so he went to Hargeisa, taking three days to reach there.
Haragaybor was given refugee status in 2006. He married in 2007 and was living with his wife and two year-old child in a Somali dwelling, costing 30,000 SSh ($18)/month. He had no work but his wife did some cleaning for their landlord. They fell behind with their rent after their 66
allowance from UNHCR was stopped in January 2011. They were evicted one month ago because they owed 10 months’ rent and they now live at the Social Welfare Centre. Their landlord took everything they own.
S17. Mulata, M, 48, Sude village, near Assella, Arsi. Oromo.
‘I am only choosing the top points. If I told you everything, we would not finish by tomorrow morning.’
Mulata used to be a health assistant and owner of a pharmacy, married with three children. He worked with the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) in Negele, Borana, until the organisation was closed down in 1995. His pharmacy was confiscated when he was first detained in May 1993 and held for seven months at a military camp in Negele. He was interrogated at night and beaten with rifle barrels and wooden batons. He was questioned about the distribution of medicines and whether they had been supplied to the OLF.
Mulata returned to Arsi at the end of 1993 and resumed work with ORA under increasing difficulties until its closure. Because of the continuing abuse and discrimination against Oromo, he joined the OLF in late 1995, travelling with fighters and treating their illnesses. At the end of 1998, he was treating OLF fighters and civilians at a field hospital in Bale zone when the camp was surrounded by government troops. Two of his friends, both unarmed, tried to run away but were shot dead. He held up his hands in surrender and was shot in the right forearm.
Mulata was taken by helicopter to Imi military camp, where he was severely tortured for 24 hours. His testicles were clamped with a device used to castrate bulls. His testicles and the tip of his penis were beaten. He fainted and regained consciousness while drops of hot molten plastic, from a sheet of plastic being held over a cigarette lighter, were being allowed to fall onto his genitalia, groin and upper thighs.
His right leg was broken during beating. Still within his first 24 hours of detention, he was taken to the Wabi Shebele river. A rope was tied around his upper torso and he was dunked into the river, above his head until he believed he was drowning, repeatedly for 1½ hours.
One of his testicles is atrophied and he is now infertile.
On the second day of his detention, he was transferred to Gode military camp. About 300 OLF fighters were there. They had surrendered during a different encounter with government troops. The 300 fighters were transferred to Hamaresa military camp, where Mulata was to join them later. Meanwhile he remained behind at Gode with seven others, including two civilians.
The eight prisoners were kept in a small room, sleeping on a stone floor with only military biscuits to eat and not enough water to wash them down. After five months, the two civilians - Omar Ali, in his 30s, from Beltu, Bale, and Abdulkadir Jara, also in his 30s, from Dalo Buna, Bale - died within one week of each other. Their bodies were left in the cell for two days. Mulata was made to carry one of the dead men on his back to a ravine and throw it in the river. 67
Mulata was kept at Gode for nine months and then moved to Hamaresa military camp, where he joined the OLF fighters who had been taken there, together with about 20 members of the Sidama Liberation Movement and about ten members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front. There were many cells, each containing about 13-14 detainees. In their nine months at Hameresa, 34 of the 300 OLF fighters had died. During the next two months, another 40 died. Hence over an eleven month period, 74 out of 300 OLF fighters died in that camp.
Mulata struggled to maintain his composure while describing the events at Hamaresa. There were several periods of silence as he fought to hold back his tears. He broke down several times. He said ‘There were so many deaths. Six died in one night. We had to bury up to eight men in the same hole. They made us push down the bodies with our feet, to make room to put another one in. I would like to show you where these mass graves are. Promise me you will see them one day.’
Bullet entry and exit wounds in forearm, where Mulata was shot as he was surrendering in 1998.
‘It is a very bitter memory. I will remember it until I die. I dislike myself when I remember these things.’
‘Many of those in that place are now in Hargeisa.’
After two months in Hamaresa, Mulata was transferred to the large prison in Zeway, where he remained for nearly three years, until his release on 9 September 2002.
‘My first wife was arrested because of me. She was tortured badly and died in Asella prison in 1998.’ He believes that his children were taken in by his family, but does not know.
He arrived in Hargeisa in 2002 and remarried, but has not been able to father any children. In 2005, he was granted refugee status. He and his second wife were renting a Somali dwelling for 25,000 SSh ($15)/month. His wife earned small amounts by cleaning. Because the UNHCR allowance was stopped at the start of the year, they owed four months’ rent and were evicted. Their landlord took all their possessions, including all of Mulata’s papers. They now live at the Social Welfare Centre.
Source and full report with photograph see on:
Source and full report with photograph see on:
Oromia Support Group Report 47 | February 27, 2012
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